When I first mentioned that I was going to start “Modern Mondays” at Cinebeats I briefly discussed how much I liked musicals so I thought I’d share a few thoughts about the best musical I’ve seen in recent years, Love Songs (aka Les chansons d’amour; 2007).
Love Songs was directed by the talented French filmmaker and writer Christophe Honore (Ma mère; 2004, Dan Paris; 2006) and features an original musical score by composer Alex Beaupain. It also stars one of my favorite working actors, the incredibly handsome, charming and charismatic Louis Garrel (The Dreamers; 2003, Regular Lovers; 2005, Dans Paris; 2006). The film tells a rather simple but multilayered and bittersweet story about three young lovers living in Paris who are torn apart physically and emotionally after one of them unexpectedly dies. Romantic films featuring bisexual threesomes instead of typical “boy meets girl” couples are rare enough, but I’m pretty sure that Love Songs is one of the first full-length musical involving a ménage à trois.
The film’s unconventional take on love and loss is refreshing and beautifully handled by director Christophe Honore. In many ways Love Songs is the director’s ode to French cinema, particularly musicals, from the 1960s. Fans of classic French films such as Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), Francois Truffaut’s Jules and Jim (1962) and Jean-Luc Godard’s A Woman Is a Woman (1961) will easily spot their influence on Honore’s film, but like the New Wave artists that he celebrates here, director Christophe Honore is clearly interested in breaking new ground. He sidesteps much of the ambiguity that was often a trademark of ’60s cinema to unabashedly deal in honest human anguish, passion and desire.
Love Songs is a sentimental film and I appreciated its sweetness and romanticism, but it’s also a thoughtful meditation on loss and the painful grieving process that occurs after we loose someone we deeply care about. There’s nothing more agonizing than the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one and I think Love Songs greatest achievement besides its wonderful score, smart script and beautiful cinematography is the way in which it expertly conveys that overwhelming sense of unexplainable sorrow that can become paralyzing when you’re in deep mourning.
As most of my regular readers are probably well aware of by now, I love French pop music from the ’60s and composer Alex Beaupain managed to capture some of the same charm and allure of earlier French musicals while giving his score an undeniably modern twist. The songs in the film are memorable and touching without ever being sappy and I was extremely impressed with the way they were continually introduced into the film. They’re sung in a natural and playful way that is very engaging and I found myself immediately seeking out the soundtrack when the film ended.
The entire cast is appealing and it’s hard not become emotionally invested in the lives of the three lovers played by Louis Garrel, Clotilde Hesme (Regular Lovers; 2005) and Ludivine Sagnier (Swimming Pool; 2003, The Girl Cut in Two; 2007). I’m undoubtedly biased since I always have a hard time taking my eyes off Garrel when he’s on screen, but I think he delivers one of his best and most touching performances in Love Songs. He seems to work well with Honore who has cast him in four of his films. Besides Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers (2003) and Philippe Garrel’s Regular Lovers (2005), I’ve only had the opportunity to see Garrel in Honore’s excellent Dans Paris as well as Love Songs, but in both films the director gets some wonderfully nuanced performances from his star. Garrel “inherited” the charm and good looks of his godfather (iconic French actor Jean-Pierre Léaud) and he has very little trouble stealing just about every scene he appears in. I was also very moved by the performance of Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet who falls in love when Garrel’s character and offers him a sort of redemption from his sorrow. And last but certainly not least, actress Chiara Mastroianni (daughter of Marcello Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve) is magnificent as Ludivine Sagnier’s troubled grieving sister.
As I mentioned above, Love Songs is only the second film by Christophe Honoré that I’ve seen, but he’s quickly becoming one of my favorite working directors. I greatly admire the way he handles the subtleties and complexities of human relationships in his films. I also appreciate the way he celebrates the beauty and mystique of the City of Lights in movies like Dan Paris and Love Songs. I hope he will continue to reinvent the modern musical and I look forward to seeing his latest film La belle personne (2008), which also features the irresistible Louis Garrel.
Modern Mondays is an ongoing project here at Cinebeats where I share a few thoughts or lengthy rants and raves about my favorite films produced during the last decade. Films previously mentioned on Modern Mondays include:
– The Left Bank (2008)