Les Chansons d'amour
Louis Garrel, Ludivine Sagnier, Chiara Mastroianni, Clothilde Hesme, Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet / Fiction / French
An Umbrellas of Cherbourg for the 21st century.
Christophe Honoré is a man on a mission: a mission to recreate the golden moments of French cinema. At least, that’s what his recent output suggests. First came the unabashed (and mostly successful) paean to the nouvelle vague, Dans Paris; and now this, an equally unambiguous tribute to the French musical cinema of Jacques Demy, in particular Les Parapluies de Cherbourg.
Paris (where else?). Young couple Ismael (Louis Garrel) and Julie (Ludivine Sagnier) share a flat and a bed. More often than not, the bed is also available to Ismael’s colleague Alice (Clothilde Hesme). So far, so French. But, as in most ménages à trois (one imagines), not everyone is getting what they want. One night at a club, an argument is followed by sudden tragedy. As Ismael reluctantly becomes the rock upon which others grieve, he finds solace in yet another carnal option, by accepting the advances of a young man. All of this unfolds, as is customary in a musical, through the gift of song.
At Cannes earlier this year, opinion was somewhat divided. But for its fans, even those whose tastes in musicals run not much further than West Side Story, Les Chansons d’amour swiftly turned trepidation to elation – and a waning enthusiasm for cinema and the surrounding festival was reversed. It was a completely unexpected, uplifting experience.
Rather than supplying an excuse to delay the telling of a thin story, the libretto here actually serves to move the action along, and is entirely in keeping with the rest of the narrative, removing the innate artificiality of the form. This also offers Honoré the opportunity to use highly emotional language that might have rung false if merely spoken.
Fundamentally, this film is about family and loss (a regular theme in this director’s work); it’s testament to Honoré’s growing skill as a filmmaker that he manages to deal with these weighty issues within the constraints of a musical featuring no less than 13 songs (some pre-existing, some written for the film). The cast do all their own singing as well, with Honoré regular Garrel giving a particularly good account of himself.
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