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GOD IS GREAT AND I'M NOT

So What Else is New?

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What kind of a guy meets a girl, follows her to church, takes her home to make love, and then, when she attempts suicide in his kitchen, still wants to go out with her? Meet François (Edouard Baer), who says he's "maybe" Jewish, and who teaches the girl to call it the Shoah, which means "genocide," and not the Holocaust, which means "sacrifice."

And what kind of a girl turns down a guy's offer for coffee because she has to "pray a little," and when he follows her to church, goes home with him, makes love, and attempts suicide in his kitchen? Meet Michèle (Audrey Tautou of Amélie), who converts to Buddhism after her suicide attempt, and then, when she learns the guy is "maybe" Jewish, begins reading Jewish for Beginners and buys him a mezuzah for his door.

That's the setup for Pascale Bailly's God Is Great and I'm Not (Dieu est grand, je suit toute petite), a French love story, with New Wave trappings, about the self-importance of young people and the very importance of self-awareness. Filmed with the bright palette of romantic comedy, and written in the breezy lingo of Hollywood pop psychology, it's vaguely charming and terribly sincere, with gentle performances by its two attractive stars.

Depending on your tolerance for obsession, Michèle's conversion to all things Jewish makes her either a sincere seeker or a lost soul. She stops taking buses on the Sabbath, and when she absent-mindedly lights her cigarette with a menorah, she begins a guilty recitation of the Chanukah miracle. (The only Old Testament value she doesn't embrace is that pesky Commandment about sex.) As a wandering Jew, François doesn't have much definition: He seems to be embarrassed by his roots, although we never know why. So this couple might as well be fighting over politics or money, considering how thinly the script explores their situation.

To give his movie some visual flare, Bailly uses quick dissolves to black the way a New Wave director uses jump cuts. He divides the story into mini-chapters, each one introduced by whimsical titles, hand-written on pieces of notebook paper that turn like a page. Michèle's earnest ex-boyfriend is played by Mathieu Demy, the son of New Wave icons Agnes Varda and Jacques Demy, and Michèle's best gal pal is Julie Depardieu, sister of Gerard.

God is Great is the second French movie in two years to problematize Jewish/Gentile romance -- the other was My Wife Is An Actress -- so maybe there's a new genre emerging here. It ends where you know it will, with the lovers blithely agreeing to live with each other's eccentricities. This is somewhat realistic when you're desperately in love, although in reality, Michèle's fixation is hardly as benign as Bailly finally allows. You know what's up when Ella Fitzgerald sings a jazzy big-band love song over the opening titles, and when Peggy Lee croons "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" over the closing crawl. God Is Great is strictly Hollywood or bust, executed with a dour French twist, and subtitles. * * 1/2

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