With “Marie-Louise,” Gallic short-film director Manuel Fleche graduates to the feature league, entirely neglecting to bulk up on material. A giddy paean to amour that might have made a lively 15-minute short, the film attempts to eke out a wispy running joke about thwarted romance into a full-fledged narrative by dressing things up with breathless pacing and a load of cine-literate frippery. Technical know-how on view may help Fleche land future projects, but this one will inspire few valentines.
Center stage in the run of romantic mishaps is Marie-Louise (Kate Beckinsale) , an American in Paris rushing to meet her new beau, Jean-Paul (Eric Ruf), on weekend leave from his out-of-town military service posting. Crossed signals leave them waiting at different train stations, and a desperate all-night quest to get back together ensues.
Their plans are complicated by two determined contenders. Jean-Paul’s spurned former flame, Marie (Marie Caries), stages a take-no-prisoners campaign to win him back and eliminate her rival. Marie-Louise is in turn pursued by love-struck Jean (Pascal Ternisien), who unwittingly involves the cops when he’s hauled in for alleged pickpocketing.
His grilling at the station delivers a few chuckles by way of the bizarre police inspector (Yann Collette). Same actor pops up in a series of droll minor roles, including a nun whose magic powers ultimately reunite the lovebirds for a long-stalled kiss. But the humor tends to wear thin fast, coming off as more calculating than captivating, as does the glib sprinkling of cinematic references.
The young cast attempts to muster a little spontaneous sweetness, but the dearth of character development in Fleche’s script makes it hard to care whether any of them find their soul mates. The actors’ energy, however, breezily matches the brisk editing, peppy, old Hollywood-style score, colorful look and gleefully frantic widescreen lensing.