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Not My Type | 2014 COLCOA Review

A Game of Give and Take: Belvaux Examines Le Pompatus de L ’amour

Lucas Belvaux Not My Type PosterKnown for a number of genre tinged thrillers that tend to examine the darker aspects of human nature, the subject matter of Lucas Belvaux’s latest feature, Not My Type, seems almost shocking in that, on the surface, it appears to be a bittersweet romantic comedy. But the film is an adaptation of a novel by Philippe Vilain, an author whose work is primarily centered on “love consciousness,” or, in other words, the many facets of love that unify and (mostly) separate us. Without having that in mind, however, there’s a definite unease snaking through the careful build-up of Belvaux’s film, a literary minded work that takes great pains to develop its two central characters as particular types, which creates an oddly distancing effect in our attitudes toward them. It’s as if, at any minute, this could end positively or in an episode of extreme carnage. Yet, as verbose as the film tends to be, it also engages as an enthralling portrait of class differences and the complicated problem of love (or what certain characters here would determine to be an emotional attachment dictated by physical desire). Above its faults rises yet another distressing and noteworthy performance from Emilie Dequenne.

Shortly after witnessing what appears to be another in a long line of breakups, philosophy teacher Clement Le Guern (Loic Corbery) is shipped out of Paris to work as a teacher in a remote area 90 minutes away, Arras. As a bachelor, he cannot command one of the highly sought after posts in the urban paradise. Disgruntled, the rather somber gentleman packs his bags and upon meeting colleague Helene (Anne Coesens) at the station, we find he’s the author of a tres tres sophistique work concerning the pedantic nature of love. While Helene waxes ecstatically and embarrassingly over Clement, he happens to meet a bleached blonde hair stylist, Jennifer (Dequenne) whom he feels drawn to. Asking her out on a date, we learn the vivacious Jennifer is a single working mother, a native to the markedly unremarkable provincial scene, who fancies reading tabloids and singing with her two best gal pals at a karaoke house on the weekends. Yet, on the first date, (Clement presents her with a copy of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot in which his telephone number is written—a subtle and cruel joke in hindsight), Jennifer is able to vocalize her doubts about them having any common interests. Yet woo her he does, and soon the reluctant Jennifer finds herself falling in love with the professor.

Belvaux easily could have made Not My Type a cruel black comedy, yet he handles Dequenne’s character quite affectionately. Sure, she can sometimes be a bit vapid and naive, but she’s considerate, sincere, and adept at communicating her feelings. She may read US Weekly and proudly exclaim her knowledge of Jennifer Aniston’s love life (in an exchange that seems utterly inane yet succinctly telling), yet she’s certainly game enough to tackle Dostoevsky on a first date, exhibiting an interest in growth and new experience.

Clement, conversely, is a cold, calculating intellectual, whose needs in a relationship (as we find from a scene with an ex played by Amira Casar) are utterly self-serving. So we never quite trust his intentions with Jennifer as anything more than a plaything who will let him entertain her by reading Proust aloud or bicker about Zola between bouts of sex. There’s a continual discomfort in their exchanges, which perhaps reaches a crescendo when she drags him to a karaoke bar and chides him to let loose. Corbery’s performance is also quite a feat considering the introspective nature of his character. It’s clear that he’s attracted to Jennifer but certainly isn’t in love with her. Theirs is a tenuous relationship, a dynamic played perfectly, and may remind you of two people you happen to know that inexplicably (and against their better judgment) get together in a doomed union.

Not My Type features a sprinkling of karaoke numbers, sung in completion by Jennifer and her friends (Sandra Nkake and Isabelle Hesme, all three singing fantastically live and in English) and they have to be some of the best incarnations of the oft used act as far as complimenting the narrative fabric. An early rousing number of The Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love” is topped by a solo number of Dequenne doing Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” while the unwavering frame gives us a close-up on her tragic, heartbroken face. Oh, and if only Belvaux would have stopped at that moment when the track ends, for the establishing scenes afterward bring everything around quite literally, ending on a shot of terrestrial finality that feels predictable and unnecessary. But despite these faults, it’s a beautiful performance from the mightily talented Dequenne and a nice change of pace for Belvaux, whose last film, 2012’s 38 Witnesses, resurrected the tragedy of Kitty Genovese and the bystander effect to rather stale and uneventful effect.

Reviewed on April 23 at the 2014 COLCOA Film Festival.

★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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