For those who are unfamiliar with Frédéric Beigbeder, a few words of explanation are in order. He first became known in his early 20s as a sort of militant night owl from a bonne famille who went so far as to form a club for trendy clubbers (ironically, of course). He then made a name for himself as a clever adman (for Wonderbra, for example: a beautiful girl in a bra stares at the viewer and says, “Look me in the eye… I said, look me in the eye”). His first novel, 99 Francs, spoofed the advertising industry and marked an end to his career in it. He is now a literary critic (TV and print) and writes lightweight novels, or “autofiction,” as the French call it, all about his life. The latest one, Un Roman Français, has a bit more heft and literary merit; it is about his arrest for snorting cocaine on the hood of a car in the wee hours one morning and the horrible 48 hours (instead of the usual 24) he spent in a holding cell ruminating about his life and raging against the vengeful prosecutor who kept him there. He is also the founder of the Prix de Flore literary prize for promising novelists.
To sum him up, he is a sort of likable, intelligent, literary upper-class twit with a great sense of humor and lots of self-deprecating charm. Now, taking his self-regarding career one step further, he has directed a film, his first, based on his novel L’Amour Dure Trois Ans (Love Lasts Three Years), billed as “Frédéric Beigbeder’s best film” (only he can be behind that slogan).
The story is simple: two young people meet, fall madly in love and marry, fall out of love and divorce bitterly. This backstory is shown at the beginning of the film in a quick succession of grainy images whose washed-out colors look like old Kodacolor snapshots (a popular device these days). We know something is wrong with the marriage when she puts her hand on his leg and it feels to him likes she’s wearing a rubber kitchen glove.
After the divorce, the disillusioned hero, Marc Marronnier (Gaspard Proust), writes a cynical novel with the self-explanatory title Love Lasts Three Years, but just when he is getting it published, he falls madly in love with another gorgeous young woman, Alice, played by Louise Bourgoin, who positively glows with glamorous beauty but is not really convincing as Marc’s lady love. The thin plotline consists of Marc’s ultimately vain efforts to keep her from finding out that he is the author of the novel that denies the possibility of love.
Proust, a talented young stand-up comedian with a self-deprecating sense of humor similar to Beigbeder’s (“I’m a disabused Cartesian,” he says in his act. “I think, therefore I am, but I don’t give a damn.” Or: “I’m a perverse insomniac: At night I dream that I can’t sleep.”). He is perfect – and perfectly charming – as the Woody-Allenesque Beigbeder character (he may be funny-looking, but he always gets the gorgeous woman). This is his first movie role, and he is the best thing about this film. I expect we will be seeing a lot more of him onscreen.
The verdict: L’Amour Dure Trois Ans is a lightweight romantic comedy with a number of funny moments, but it isn’t strong enough to make us really believe that love triumphs. Only pre-confirmed romantics need apply.