About an hour into Combien Tu M’Aimes? (How Much Do You Love Me?) the film’s director Bertrand Blier makes a Hitchcock-like cameo appearance as a client in a brothel. It’s a typical Blier moment from the director of Les Valeuses and Trop Belle pour Toi and one that perhaps only he could get away with.
Combien Tu M’Aimes?begins with François (Bernard Campan) walking into that same brothel and asking Daniela (Monica Bellucci) how much she charges. He says that he’s just won over €4 million on the lottery and offers her a deal: come and live with me and I’ll give you €100,000 a month until the money runs out. She agrees, but neither seems to have figured in Charly (Gérard Depardieu), Daniela’s gangster boyfriend. If François wants to keep Daniela, Charly says, he’s going to have to hand over some of his winnings.
The film shows Blier back on form after Les Cotelettes. There’s nothing revolutionary about it: take some stock characters – this time the loser in love, the beautiful prostitute, the petty gangster – and put them in situations guaranteed to make the audience laugh and tut in equal measure. Yet this is also the director’s skill; he’s a master at creating worlds that sort of look like our own, yet are run on a completely different set of rules. His films shouldn’t be funny (and when he’s not on song, they aren’t), but this time he’s made a film that not only makes you laugh but also ends up being a strangely compelling enquiry into ideas about money, ownership, self-image and love.
Blier has often been accused of misogyny, and Combien Tu M’Aimes? does have an unsettling attitude toward women. Monica Bellucci is turned into a fetish by the camera (when she takes off her coat, night turns into
day) and by all the men around her (one character is reduced to repeating, “She is so beautiful.”), but Blier is smart enough to introduce another female character who not only undercuts the film’s view of women, but also asks the audience to consider its own preconceptions. It’s a neat, funny trick that gives the film unexpected depth.
Bernard Campan and Gérard Depardieu are excellent, clicking right into the Blier spirit. Monica Bellucci, on the other hand, is excruciating as Daniela, vamping it up so much that she’s about as sexy as a brick. Bellucci has played this role before in Giuseppe Tornatore’s Malèna. Thankfully this time it’s for laughs, but still it doesn’t help us answer that burning question: can Monica Bellucci actually act?
There’s never been any doubt about Jean-Pierre Darroussin’s skills, and his small role as François’ best friend and doctor is a wonderful little turn. The depiction of his character’s loneliness and desperate search for love gives Combien Tu M’Aimes? a poignancy that’s the perfect counterpoint to its high-spirited and very silly high jinks.Favorite