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3 Hearts | Review

Heart to Heart to Heart: Jacquot’s Romantic Drama Can’t Cover Every Angle

Benoît Jacquot 3 Hearts PosterDespite sporting the likes of Charlotte Gainsbourg and Catherine Deneuve, 3 Hearts, the latest from Benoit Jacquot often feels like a rather stilted endeavor. The follow-up to his most internationally renowned title to date, Farewell, My Queen, Jacquot’s underwhelming love story uses a contrivance often seen in romantic comedies, only he replaces the comedy with a somber indifference that seems to work against the believability of the film.

The film seems as if it belongs to an earlier era of filmmaking, a time where repressed feelings would roil just beneath the surface until they boiled over to cause living hell for all affected parties lost amidst the unmitigated power known as love. This is the stuff of classic melodrama, and the three hearts at the center of this triangle often feel more like archetypes than actual people, though this time, Jacquot tells his tale through the perspective of a male protagonist, which isn’t generally the case in his cinema of strong willed females.

Missing his last train to Paris, tax inspector Marc Beaulieu (Benoit Poelvoorde), wanders the streets of an empty suburb, Valence. Stuck for the night, he wanders into a bar for cigarettes and spies a rather unhappy looking woman, with whom he strikes up a conversation. Her name is Sophie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and she doesn’t seem prone to smiling. They commiserate well into the night even after he finds a suitable hotel. They agree to meet later that week in Paris and do not exchange numbers. Theirs is an old fashioned type of attraction, one where fate is allowed a roll of the dice. And, as fate would have it, Marc has heart complications that cause him to be late, and Sophie goes on her merry way to Minneapolis with her husband, though it hardly seems something she wants to be doing. The move causes considerable grief for her sister Sylvie (Chiara Mastroianni), who must now run their mother’s (Catherine Deneuve) antique shop alone. But the finances are a mess, which brings her into contact with the kindly Marc, purely by chance. He helps her out, they fall in love and voila! During a Skype conversation between the sisters, Marc becomes aware of the situation, which makes for a tense wedding ceremony on Marc’s part. Pretending they don’t know each other, it’s not long before Marc and Sophie’s passionate feelings overrule their moral compasses.

In essence, 3 Hearts isn’t doing anything that the recent Your Sister’s Sister didn’t already successfully execute recently. A guy meets one sister, feels a strong connection, but circumstances don’t permit a successful permutation of coupledom. Instead, already primed, he meets an equally attractive sibling, though sister number two is completely unaware of the transaction that already took place with her family member. But Jacquot doesn’t seem interested in disguising the contrived and extreme artificiality of the situation—why else spoon feed us with unnecessary omniscient narration? This is a tradition of cinematic exploration featuring nicely honed performances experimenting through a scenario. But it feels like an archaic mode of transportation, a carriage ride in a world where time and attention spans have mutated the notion of love.

Belgian actor Benoit Poelvoorde is well known for his impressive range, familiar as the serial killer in Man Bites Dog, as well as a regular member in the zany weirdness of films from Gustave de Kervern and Benoit Delepine. He’s also quite charming in his own offbeat way in rom-com fare like Anne Fontaine’s My Worst Nightmare, seducing the very married ice queen played by Isabelle Huppert. And yet his Marc Beaulieu is nearly bereft of any sort of remarkable feature in Three Hearts, beyond the fact that his actual ticker isn’t working all that well. What’s more telling about what the film’s trying to say is noting that the script was co-written by Julien Boivent, who penned two very different and distinct titles for Jacquot, Villa Amalia (2009) and Deep in the Woods (2010), both incredibly underrated and without distribution in the US. All three of these collaborations are dealing with people engaged in unlikely and improbable fantasies, yet relayed with such conviction it’s hard not interpret them at face value alone.

Gainsbourg’s Sylvie is hardly characterized beyond being an innately unhappy person, leaving Paris for Minneapolis in a stale marriage at the film’s outset. Her visits home carry with them a certain dread within the film, as we’re waiting for a grand explosion that kinda sorta transpires, though it’s much more entertaining to watch her blatantly reject contact with her young, clasping nephew. Chiara Mastroianni, who stepped in at the last minute to replace Lea Seydoux (don’t worry, Seydoux is starring Jacquot’s latest, a delicious sounding update of Diary of a Chambermaid) fares best, a sympathetic figure in the midst of a dreary drizzle. Her mother, the great Deneuve, is once again playing her mother, though it’s a role that requires very little from the icon.

Coldly brooding and with a sustained tension that doesn’t quite burn into the hothouse of emotional intensity one would predict, 3 Hearts treats love like a great misfortune, a missed opportunity that haunts and tears apart. It’s a perspective that’s worth its merit and makes Jacquot’s treatment well worth examining, though these three hearts are all pretty cold.

Reviewed on September 9th at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival – Special Presentations Programme. 106 Minutes

★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

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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