What's Love Got To Do With French Movies?

in 35th Montreal World Film Festival

by Nicolas Bauche

During the 35th Montreal World Film Festival, the selected French films showed a strange obsession for stories about love using a bitter or dark approach that questions the over-rated reputation of romance cinema.              

Since France has been established world-wide as one of the main nations of love and the inventor of the most popular French kiss, French movie directors seem to feel the need to shoot pictures that explore the secret passions of the heart. For the best and the worst, no doubt, French people reign over a cinematic field where the heart commands the lines of the script and the choices of the audience: the selection of the French movies in the 35th edition of Montreal World Films Festival was no exception. But when it comes to love, do not expect anything but an off-the-wall humorous approach. For instance, in Let My People Go!, Mikael Buch’s witty, hilarious first film set between Finland and France, turns passion into a gay screwball comedy. Emmanuel Mouret, Rohmer’s so-called spiritual son, blurs the usual rules of seduction in The Art of Love (L’Art d’aimer). The numerous heroines of 17 Girls (17 Filles) by Delphine and Muriel Coulin bet that getting pregnant will gain them the unconditional love they have never received from their parents. Karine Silla’s A Butterfly Kiss (Un Baiser papillon) tries to define life as a love impulse. One can not even rely on filial love which is a bit tricky — She Doesn’t Cry, She Sings (Elle ne pleure pas, elle chante) by Philippe de Pierpont deals with the incestuous relationship of a brain-dead father and his daughter. And so on and so on. Love? Obviously, it is rather more complex than a naïve feeling.                  

But why is it is such a national topic? A few years ago, UniFrance, the main national promotion agency for French movies, asked foreign journalists about their own vision of French cinema. Mostly, they answered back it was “ménage à trois” or “boy meets girl”, or such clichés that the directors have been fighting over years. The same survey during 35th Montreal World Films Festival could come to the same conclusion. One should insinuate that French cinema is not renewed in any way. One could also blame la Nouvelle Vague: after all, Godard thought that “all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun” and, thanks to Pierrot le fou, and Le Mépris, it reached its height. In fact, this obsession with love could be a way to get rid of the ghost of the New Wave’s movie directors and their influence over 60 years. “L’amour, toujours l’amour”, says one of the Women in George Cukor classic to lighten up the atmosphere, when the girls chorus could not believe in true love anymore. Nowadays, in France, no one could pronounce that line without attracting cynical attention: the big screen has become the best delusional mirror for an audience whose taste for grand gestures and unconditional love results in mixed feelings, but certainly not a death. After all, there is pleasure in pain and it is definitely French cinema’s new motto.      

Edited by Steven Yates