Not Here To Be Loved Review

Running the family law firm as a bailiff, Jean-Claude Delsart’s work sees him hand out court orders and carry out evictions and repossessions on a daily basis. It’s not a fun job, but somebody has to do it and Delsart (Patrick Chesnais) has the emotional detachment necessary not to get too personally involved in the unpleasant nature of his work. The job is mildly stressful however and although he’s not in bad health, at the age of 50 he’s not getting any younger either. His doctor advises against taking up tennis again – as a child Jean-Claude was an accomplished tennis player – a little light exercise would be good, but nothing too energetic or over-exciting. The dance-class that Delsart can see from his office window gives him an idea – he’ll learn how to dance the tango. There he meets Françoise (Anne Consigny), a young woman who becomes his dancing partner, and through the intimacy of the dance, she manages to get closer to a man who has closed himself off from all emotions. There is only one problem, Françoise is engaged and is taking the classes in preparation for her wedding.

“Nothing too energetic or over-exciting” also kind of sums up Not Here To Be Loved (Je ne suis pas là pour être aimé). It’s one of those “time of life” films that are financed by French cable television channels to ultimately fit nicely into a safe evening TV slot for a certain mature type of audience. It’s not hard for this audience to identify with normal people, living unglamorous lives in boring dead-end jobs, seeking to regain the little spark that will get them through a difficult stage in their lives and marriages. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this type of film - it’s all about what you bring to it. Although it can lead to execrable feel-good-about-yourself material like the Larrieu’s Peindre ou faire l’amour, in the hands of a capable writing/directing team like Agnès Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri, in films such as Le goût des autres and Comme une image, the change of life crisis can be a finely observed and meticulously structured observation of human nature and behaviour.

Not Here To Be Loved falls into the former category rather than the latter - everything about it is as readable and predictable as the title would lead you to believe. The situation and characterisation is more than a little contrived – an aging, irascible and emotionally cut-off single man with no outlook on life other than his regular weekend visit to his cantankerous father (a superb Georges Wilson) at an old people’s home, meets a younger woman who, about to be married, is uncertain about the direction in which her life is going. The main problem here – and it’s one that to a lesser degree affects a similar relationship in last year’s "time of life" film, The Singer - is that it fails to convincingly establish this relationship between the faded older man with no real prospects and a much younger woman. At least The Singer had the faded charm of an old professional ladies man, masterfully interpreted by Gérard Depardieu in its main role, but the could-have-once-been-a-great-tennis-star backstory of Jean-Claude in Not Here To Be Loved doesn’t carry the same weight or past glamour. That’s rather more a flaw with the characterisation than the performance however, since Patrick Chesnais is excellent here, with a hangdog look and air of irascibility that is every bit as endearingly curmudgeonly as Jean-Pierre Bacri. Placed in the right incongruous situation - as with the very amusing scene in a perfume shop - this pays dividends, but such moments are rare and are not balanced by sufficient complementary motivation on the part of Françoise.

The brief verbal exchanges between Jean-Claude and Françoise and shorthand attempts to depict their situation are woefully inadequate and heavily clichéd, but like other films where a convincing common ground has failed to be adequately established in the thin characterisation (Lost In Translation also comes to mind), the director hopes he can wing it through a subtle evocation of mood and sentiment. Where the words fail the music, subtle lighting and awkwardness of their fledgling steps together should cast their spell upon the viewer. Uncertain and unhappy with their current positions, but unable to articulate it - or perhaps even being unaware of it - it’s in following the steps of the tango, in letting themselves go and not thinking too hard that they should rediscover the natural rhythm and passion that is missing from their lives. In many ways however, Not Here To Be Loved also slips into a familiar step that has been danced a number of times already (how often, for example, must we see a scene of an employee giving it straight to his boss, only for it to be revealed that he is speaking to an empty chair?), and by rather more skilled and adept practitioners of the relationship tango than Stéphane Brizé.

Not Here To Be Loved is released as on DVD in the UK by Artificial Eye. The disc is dual-layer, is in PAL format and is encoded for Region 2.

The quality of the video on this release is hard to fault, at least if you are viewing it on an older CRT display. It might not look too impressive, but the tones and colour are perfect, the grain is natural and the image clear, showing adequate detail. It’s also pleasantly soft rather than being over-clinically sharp. A progressive transfer, the image is perfectly stable and presented anamorphically in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. You really couldn’t ask for anything more from the transfer ...unless you have a progressive display. For some reason, the same encoding problem that occurs frequently on Artificial Eye's releases is also evident here - on a progressive display, the image flickers and pulsates to the blocky macro-compression artefacts. Depending on your display device then, this could look great or just lousy.

The are no real problems however with the audio tracks, which come with a choice of Dolby Digital 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. The surround mix is very fine, giving a nice focussed, centralised sound with subtle ambience. There isn’t much call for the surrounds or low-frequency channel, though it does give a lovely tone and depth to the double-bass in the marvellous tango score by Eduardo Makaroff and Christoph H. Müller of the Gotan Project.

English subtitles are provided in a clear white font and are optional. As usual, I’d question the strength of the swearing in translation, which alone accounts for the film’s UK 15 certificate.

Interview with Stéphane Brizé (33:36)
The director provides some information on his background and his road into making films. He talks about how the script, characters and the film were developed and, unsurprisingly, it all sounds rather calculated and uninspired. The casting and dance sequences were key factors and Brizé explains the methods used to make them work.

Interview with Anne Consigny and Patrick Chesnais (25:59)
The two lead actors talk about how they worked together and with the director to bring something to the characters, define them and make them work well on the screen. The evolution of the script saw it being refined, dialogue reduced and more reliance and trust being placed on the actors to get it right – and if they have been well cast, the battle is half won.

Trailer (1:41)
The trailer manages to pack quite a lot into its short running time – but unfortunately, it’s all the best lines in the film, all the best dance moves and the development of practically the whole plot.

There is some merit in Not Here To Be Loved’s low-key treatment of its characters and in its refusal to glamorise them or see them as anything more than normal people with ordinary lives and problems, and I’ve no doubt either that the film’s well-measured simple charm will also appeal to a large audience of a certain mature age. Personally, I found the characterisation of the main figures thin, their relationship unconvincing and the playing out of their little drama rather schematic and banal. The film furthermore is directed with not an ounce of the style or originality that can be found in the numerous other French variations of the theme (The Hairdresser’s Husband, Confidences trop intimes, Le goût des autres) nor with the attention to characterisation and delicacy of mood that a master like Wong Kar-wai (In The Mood For Love) can bring to it. Depending on your television set-up, Artificial Eye’s presentation of the film on DVD at least gives Not Here To Be Loved the best possible chance of winning the viewer over with its superbly toned image, warm enveloping soundtrack and detailed extra features.

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