Actress Ludivine Sagnier may be on the road to typecasting as a French musical comedy star. Following her noted role as the cheeky teenager in François Ozon’s 8 Femmes, here she is again, all grown up and singing her heart out, in Les Chansons d’Amour, directed by Christophe Honoré.
The film starts out promisingly, with low-budget-looking but handsomely filmed images of Paris streets that tourists rarely see: The main characters, the young couple Ismaël (the appealing Louis Garrel, who brings to mind the young Jean-Pierre Léaud in Truffaut’s early films) and Julie (Sagnier), live near grimy Strasbourg-Saint Denis. The Eiffel Tower doesn’t make a single appearance in the film; instead the “Génie de la Liberté” (spirit of liberty) on top of the Bastille column stands in as the symbol of Paris.
Ismaël and Julie are involved in a strangely innocent-seeming ménage à trois with a friend, Alice (Clotilde Hesme), for reasons that are not entirely clear. In one funny scene, Julie’s mother (Brigitte Roüan) questions her about it, embarrassing even herself with her avid interest in the details of this curious relationship (our own curiosity about it is never satisfied).
Tragedy soon brings this youthful frolicking to an end, however, and we follow Ismaël and the other characters as they try to put their lives back on track and readjust their relationships with each other.
About the singing: the problem isn’t so much that it’s there, but that the songs aren’t catchy or memorable enough and that the sound is so tinny. It’s rather annoying the first time the characters burst into song, but you get used to it as the movie progresses. Only a couple of the songs are really well-integrated into the story, notably a gay lovemaking scene near the end where the music and words truly suit the mood.
Playing one of Julie’s sisters, Chiara Mastroianni’s main function seems to be looking as hangdog as the elderly pooch that trails around after her, but she does it very convincingly and amusingly.
This is an engaging film with charming, well-rounded and even lovable characters, especially Ismaël, Julie’s mother and Erwann (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet), who pops up in the last third of the film and is the instigator of the surprising yet believable twist at the end.
You’ll leave the cinema feeling that you’ve met some people you’d like to get to know better and who live in a Paris that really exists.
And, by the way, there is some singin’ in the rain – not a takeoff on the classic film but a quiet tribute to it that realistically portrays the ambiance of a gray, wet day in Paris.