The Most Important Thing is to Love: Mouret’s Loquacious Ode to Capricious Romance(s)
With narratives often constructed on the gossamer threads of human interactions, it’s hard to believe Emmanuel Mouret is unleashing his tenth feature in the twenty plus years he’s been making films. His latest, titled in English as Love Affair(s), which doesn’t quite catch the wistful benevolence of the actual title, The Things We Say, the Things We Do, reflects Mouret’s consistent impulse for showcasing some of Gallic cinema’s most winsome flavors of the month.
From Dolores Chaplin in Laissons Lucie faire! (2000), Virginie Ledoyen in 2007’s Shall We Kiss? (and then 2013’s Another Life) and Anais Demoustier in Caprice (2015), Mouret finds a significant gravitational pull in his romantic entanglements through effervescent casting, of which his latest is no exception. A vibrant roundelay of exchanges and entanglements which recall the magic of Ophuls’ La Ronde (1950), is brimming with vibrant twists and turns reflecting the waywardness of love as merely a smokescreen for desiring to experience intimacy with those whose propinquity leaves them just out of reach.
Unlucky in love Maxime (Nils Schneider) absconds from a toxic situation to spend some time with his cousin Francois (Vincent Macaigne) in Paris, who happens to be out of town. Instead, he’s greeted by Daphne (Camelia Jordana), three months pregnant with Francois’ child. As they get to know one another in his cousin’s absence, the two share stories of their sentimental misadventures, beginning with Maxime, who relates a recent a heartbreak about his object of desire, Sandra (Jeanna Thiam), who he became enamored with because he was having a sexual liaison with her older, married sister (Julia Piaton). But Sandra had specific ideas about love and attraction and embarked on a relationship with Maxime’s best friend Gaspard (Guillaume Gouix). The couple invited Maxime to live with them, which ended up being a messy scenario as Sandra just left them both behind. Daphne also knows something about unrequited romance, revealing how her work as an editor led her to a prolonged flirtation with a documentarian. Her relationship with Francois was an accident since he wasn’t really her type and had also been married at the time. But as we learn, Daphne and Francois’ affair caused further complications with his wife Louise (Emilie Dequenne), the extent of which is revealed to him while on his current trip away from home. By the time he returns, Maxime and Daphne have fallen in love.
Love Affair(s) is a tangled intersection of conscious uncoupling, so to speak, where the ravages of one romance provide the conduits for the next candidate. Like an elegant novel, which visually recalls the tone of something like Bertrand Tavernier’s A Sunday in the Country (1984), Mouret channels a cacophony of beating hearts with his latest, an effortless and endless conversation about the universal trappings of love and monogamy.
Any particular coupling reveals another facet of how relationships are either hampered or inspired, from Schneider’s fantasizing of Thiam to the point where actual intimacy feels false, to the melancholic avenue taken by Dequenne’s jilted wife when she discovers Macagine’s affair with Jordana. Emilie Dequenne, who isn’t featured heavily until the film’s second half, is consistently captivating on screen, and we’ve had the opportunity to watch the actress grow from the title child in the Dardennes’ Rosetta (1999) to a fixture of French language cinema. Even a stranger she asks to pose as a new lover to ease the estrangement from her ex-husband is revelatory once Mouret treats us to his perspective – “As if by being someone else, I was being myself.”
Love Affair(s) is filled with pointed observations about how we perceive love, “Dating someone with your own interests is self-involved—it’s building capital, not love,” someone haughtily and naively declares. But perhaps it’s a discussion of mimetic theory which really girds Mouret’s latest—those who are desired objects absorb such advances, while those who are untethered and desiring said object tend to repel connection with their “need.” Jordana, recently Cesar nominated for Le Brio (2017) proves to be a joyful discovery, while Niels Schneider (of Xavier Dolan 2009 title Heartbeats) at last finds himself in material which allows him to show a bit of range. Fascinating, elegant and at times beautifully emotional (Dequenne’s monologue about the ‘love of ownership’ is formidably apt), Love Affair(s) finds Mouret at the top of his game, wading through continual odysseys inspired by crimes of the heart.
Reviewed on June 29th – Cannes 2020 Label – THE NEWCOMERS Programme. 120 Mins.