11 May 2008
On Love Songs: Sad songs. Same songs. Hilariously-translated from the French songs. I saw the preview for this film and it became an immediate must see. Honoré. Paris. Youth. Threesome. Even a Mastroianni. And the preview is a great summary of the first 20 minutes, which will make you think of Godard, A Woman is a Woman, etc. Fabulous last name only opening titles, shots of the streets, smoky vocals (“look at me”), caterwauling into a fashionable apartment, hip choices for bedtime reading. And then it all goes away.
The moments before she collapses and dies Julie (Ludivine Sagnier) leans in concert with the man at the piano, the music the same as what she’s been singing to Ismael (Louis Garrel) and the short leg of the triangle Alice (Clotilde Hesme) all along. With Ismael’s arms around her, we feel with Julie the way any music can be yours when you are in your neighborhood, in love.
As soon as she disappears from the film in an odd collection of black and white still frames, Love Songs becomes a dirge. The main sport is giggling at the lyrics about tongues licking clean muddy feet with sweet venom saliva. Or something. I did also have an ancillary attraction to the male characters’ nice woolen goods—it appears I have the same taste as the Bretons when it comes to sweaters.
And, bless her pedigreed heart, Chiara Mastroianni does little as Julie’s lamenting sister. She sings poutily for a while in Bastille Park, a little like Scarlett Johansson-Van Wilder doing Tom Waits. She is not even as good at looking sad as Marcello is in a film like A Special Day.
I found myself asking, “Why couldn’t Love Songs have been a sequel to Ma Mere? In the latter film Louis Garrel was still more of a brooder than a bather and his interest in group sex was already well-defined. His Pierre in that film starred with the indomitable Isabelle Huppert. The milieu of Love Songs was 10th arrondissement and group sex, whereas the milieu of Ma Mere was the Canary Islands and group sex with your mother. As Malle’s Lacombe Lucien showed us, the French excel at films that revolve around the question, “Will he or won’t he be a motherfucker?”
In the same way sex object Sagnier departs early in Love Songs, Huppert decamps with her terrifying friend Rea after Act One of Ma Mere. Huppert provides the incandescent vitality that Love Songs lacks. She starts off the film with the question “Did I keep you waiting?” This is directed at her older, cable-sweatered husband whose pants are pulled down. Apparently he was waiting. With the immediate and continuing on screen power she holds over both her husband and Pierre she is able to dominate the film from off screen as the puppetmaster the others characters aspire, fearfully, to be.
She leaves for her son Hansi (Emma de Caunes). de Caunes, inflammable (or, if you prefer, flammable), peach and plum colored, is the one who "still believes in love" but wears her boots to bed and is handy with a whip. In her interview on the DVD extras (looking all the more stunning and natural in short brown hair) she repeatedly uses the phrase, “not gratuitous,” which is a good indication of why Ma Mere is not to be missed. Hansi (you can hear the bread crumbs home in her name) asks Pierre, “Did I keep you waiting?” (a Huppert doppelganger). She continues, “Do you think I am a whore paid by your mother?” And they kiss, Pierre answering silently, I think you are my mother.
The entirety of Ma Mere forwards an older, more disturbed worldview than the one in Love Songs. So Honoré seems another who has regressed for lack of aggression.
(He also loses points for the over the top ending soundtrack choice—though Honoré claims The Turtles’ “Happy Together” is in no way an ironic comment on a son masturbating over his mother’s corpse. That is a Bruno Dumont-level fib.)