Have you ever been involved with someone you just can't seem to fall utterly in love with, but whom you also just can't quit? If not, then you probably won't get Love Songs, a slightly quirky French romantic drama that riffs on the mystery and melancholy of love.
Ismaël (Louis Garrel) and Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), both approaching 30, are in a relationship and share a Paris apartment. Julie's family loves Ismaël, a charming lad with milky skin and curly black hair who entertains them at Sunday dinners with pantomime and puppet shows. Realistically, life for them all couldn't be better: They have love, family and a life-affirming sadness that comes with the package.
But there's more. Ismaël and Julie have taken a third person into their ménage: She's Alice (Clotilde Hesme), who works with Ismaël at a newspaper. They switch roles in bed (discussed but not seen -- this is about love, not sex), and when Julie and her mother chat about it, mom is titillated but nonjudgmental.
Then, Julie dies of an aneurism, and they all struggle with their loss. Her family still welcomes Ismaël and offers him Julie's insurance money. Alice moves on but continues to look after him, taking him for a night to the apartment of her new boyfriend, who has a brother, who's gay, who likes Ismaël, who ends up liking him.
Why are these people, so connected to one another, also so sad? Who knows? Certainly not Christophe Honoré, the writer/director of Love Songs. He asks the question but wisely doesn't answer, which makes his film seem more true. There's a satisfying humanity that sneaks up on you in Love Songs, as if Honoré didn't want you to know just where he was going until he finally got there. His characters have issues, but they're fully functional. They cope with reality, and they all come to accept (even understand) each other's longings.
If this all sounds a bit fanciful, then don't worry: Honoré seems to realize it, too. That's why his drama is also a musical, although not a very good one. The songs aren't terribly tuneful -- they sound at times more like a high school class project -- and the actors sing just well enough. Nothing that's sung couldn't be said, and because it's French, it wouldn't seem strange to have the characters talk and talk and talk.
But neither does the music intrude too much, because Love Songs is so nicely acted and solidly grounded in the tender simplicity of what it says: We should take love where we can find it, and we're fools if we don't. "Love me less, but love me a long time," Ismaël's new boyfriend says to him as they embark on their relationship. Has Ismaël accepted that he's gay? Does love have no boundaries? Who can say? And who cares? He's in love. Are you? In French, with subtitles.
Starts Fri., May 23 Regent Square
- Bedfellows Ludivine Sagnier, Clotilde Hesme and Louis Garrel