Les Chansons d'Amour Review
On a roll after his tribute to/pastiche of the films of the Nouvelle Vague in Dans Paris, Christophe Honoré throws himself back into the spirit of classic French cinema with a quickly made follow-up. A musical that owes something to Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Jean-Luc Godard’s Une Femme Est Une Femme, Les Chansons d’Amour is however thoroughly a film by Christophe Honoré - Un Homme Est Un Homme, if you like.
Honoré’s new film, released in France just as his previous film reached UK cinemas, again stars Louis Garrel, demonstrating again the kind of classic French New Wave looks and bearing that he managed so well not only in Dans Paris but also in his father Philippe Garrel’s Les Amants Réguliers. Here he plays Ismaël, a young man who works as a journalist on a small periodical, caught up in a ménage à trois with his girlfriend Julie (Ludivine Sagnier) and a girl who works at his office, Alice (Clotilde Hesme – also Garrel’s co-star in Les Amants Réguliers). It is a situation that has arisen through convenience, but works through the fun and light-heartedness of their youthful innocence. Julie however knows that it is too good to last and when it does end – tragically – Ismaël is the one who finds it difficult to get himself back together. Lost and unable to settle down in the apartment they once all shared together, Ismaël walks the streets of Paris, has casual sexual encounters, but is unable to shift the deep emptiness that lies within him, resisting the advances of a young man Erwann (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet) who may be able to bring him back to life.
Honoré tackled a similar subject in 17 Fois Cécile Cassard, treating the subject of bereavement with a certain sense of abstraction. Here those sentiments, the confusion and the loss are conveyed though the music score, but in contrast to Honoré’s debut feature, the treatment still remains completely down-to-earth. There are no glamorous images of Paris tourist attractions in Les Chansons d’Amour, rather it is filmed on the boulevards and sidestreets of the Bastille quarter with its large ethnic communities, and in the little rooms above shops where ordinary people live out their lives. Furthermore Honoré films this almost on the run, capturing the essence of the streets in a cold, wet winter, in the manner that echoes Eustache’s La Maman et la Putain, particularly with its love triangle storyline.
The inner life of the film is then conveyed in the songs and music score which features marvellous compositions throughout by Alex Beaupain, themselves evoking a similar seedy romantic glamour in the manner of Serge Gainsbourg or Jacques Brel, fitting essentially into the story without falsely heightening the emotions or reality of the subject matter. The songs are further brought to life by the charm of a marvellous principal cast - though the supporting cast are no less well-defined – and some delightful, simple effective choreography.
Les Chansons d’Amour’s three part structure certainly evokes Demy’s Les Parapluies de Cherbourg - not explicitly or with any musical influence as much as in the mood of wistful romantic tragedy, though there is one overt tribute paid with two anachronistic sailors walking behind Erwann and his friend at one point. Such references and Nouvelle Vague leanings would appear to sit uneasily with the modernity of the film’s characters, but it all works effortlessly. Wonderfully photographed, beautifully staged, marvellously performed and sung, Honoré more than just pays tribute to the classic French musicals, he finds a way to apply their magic to his own themes, and as a consequence takes his own work to a new level.