I feel a song coming on
EARLY in this year’s Cannes festival, writer-director Christophe Honoré was philosophical about the prospects for his modern-day musical in the competition for the Palme d’Or. He compared the festival to the Eurovision Song Contest because “France usually comes second or third last.”
Honoré’s prediction was not far off the mark: Love Songs was passed over by the jury, and it divided the critics more than any other film, as musicals tend to do.
Rearranging 13 poppy tunes composed by Alex Beaupain, Honoré allows his characters to express their emotions through bursting into song, spontaneously in the manner of original screen musicals from Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg to the recent Once.
Love Songs is set among the self-absorbed young bourgeoisie of Paris, talking and smoking profusely as they try to deal with their complicated sex lives. In his third film for Honoré (after Dans Paris and Ma Mère), Louis Garrel displays a decent singing voice as he engagingly plays the pivotal character, a charming but emotionally immature young man who works as a magazine sub-editor.
Borrowing from the structure of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Love Songs is in three sections. At the outset, Garrel’s Ismaël is in a relationship with Julie (Ludivine Seigner) when his bisexual colleague Alice (Clotilde Hesme) joins them to form a menage à trois. Tragedy strikes abruptly, and Ismaël is on his own again and heartbroken.
When Julie’s sister (Chiara Mastroanni) expresses concern for Ismaël, he rejects her efforts, just as he rebuffs the advances of a gay young Breton (Grégoire Leprince-Rinquet) who has fallen head over heels for him. Ismaël must finally come to terms with life, love and loss.
Despite the sadness at its core, Love Songs is by some way the lightest, most upbeat film to date from Honoré, buoyed with good humour in its sung and spoken lines. All the actors provide their own singing voices and acquit themselves respectably, and they inhabit their characters with eager commitment in this appealing divertissement.