What might have been a compelling portrait of anti-Semitism instead emerges as a sentimental coming-of-age story in “I Love You, I Love You Not.” Not even the presence of gifted thesps Jeanne Moreau and Claire Danes can save this story from its descent into schmaltz. Only hard-core fans of the actresses will turn out for the film’s assuredly brief arthouse engagements, though it may have better luck on video, where it probably should have headed in the first place. Pic’s theatrical life to date has been brief engagements in Paris and Norway.
Sensitive, sad-eyed Daisy (Danes), a Manhattan prep school student, travels to the country to spend weekends with her European-born grandmother (Moreau). As the two of them pass the time giggling, frolicking in the garden and trading stories, Daisy, who spends a lot of time reading books and staring off into space, reveals to Nana the source of her distraction.
In flashbacks, Daisy has her first romantic encounter with a boy, the smug and strapping Ethan (Jude Law). As they stroll through Central Park, their romance is played out in a series of vignettes that, through Maryse Alberti’s lens, looks like a gauzy, sun-dappled fairy tale. Nana’s recollections, meanwhile, are more somber, but they’re given a similarly soft visual treatment. A Jew in Nazi Germany, the young Nana (also played by Danes) was confined to a ghetto and later a concentration camp — events not seen, merely suggested.
Both women learn what it’s like to be different, Nana through her gentile friends’ rejection and then her internment at Auschwitz, and Daisy when she reveals her heritage, only to have her classmates make anti-Semitic jokes. Even Ethan, it seems, is a bigot; he announces that Daisy is “too serious” for him; what he means is that her Jewish background makes him uncomfortable.
By drawing a parallel between Daisy and Nana’s personal traumas, the film makes a major misstep. Because Daisy’s romantic woes occupy so much screen time, her grandmother’s past suffering functions as little more than a narrative device. That leaves director Billy Hopkins and scripter Wendy Kesselman in the curious paradox: Though ostensibly valorizing Holocaust survivors, Hopkins and Kesselman end up trivializing them.
Based on a short play by Kesselman, the film never really leaves its theatrical roots behind. Interactions between Moreau and Danes, alternating between stilted conversations and gooey hugs, seem inauthentic. Dialogue between Daisy and her classmates is no more credible; in both substance and tone their conversations are much more appropriate to pre-teenagers than 17-year-olds. Camerawork is adequate, if uninspired, and Gil Goldstein’s score too often calls attention to itself by swelling repeatedly at the most saccharine moments.