Pitched somewhere between the poise of Patrice Leconte and playful observation of Eric Rohmer, “Love Tangles” is a delight. Schematic, sexy, beautifully played and scripted with pointillist economy, this brightly lensed conte moral about an office Lothario and his female quarry has enough going for it (as well as buckets of Gallic charm) to carve a theatrical career among upscale auds with the right handling. Though pic is as flimsy as a snowflake, first-time helmer/co-scripter Olivier Peray and his cast merit deep bows.
The Rohmer parallels are immediately obvious as bright young thing Sophie (Sarah Grappin) strikes up a conversation with studious-looking Alain (Vincent Elbaz) at a roadside cafe about a guy (Bruno Putzulu) at another table who’s surrounded by two adoring women. Alain surprises her by saying he knows him: His name is Lionel, and four years ago they worked together in a publishing company where Lionel was known as the “sex machine.” In true Paris boulevardier style, Sophie settles down to hear Alain’s story.
Apparently, following a discussion about women and their emotional makeup, Alain once bet Lionel that he couldn’t fall in love with a woman and spend the night with her without having sex. Eager to prove his theory that distaffers are more interested in emotional commitment than carnal satisfaction, Lionel accepts, and completely at random zeroes in on Claire (Smadi Wolfman), a travel agent.
From the very start, it’s clear that Claire is more than a match for Lionel’s maneuvers, first giving him a phony name and address, and later casually remarking that she’s married. But after plenty of sexual banter, the two genuinely connect, and next thing they’re back at Lionel’s flat and between the sheets with a vengeance. End of the bet? End of the pic? Not by a long chalk: At this point, 40 minutes in, Alain admits that wasn’t what really happened, and a whole different reality starts to unspool, capped by some neat further twists at the end.
To say the least, the movie is very knowing, as well as being highly schematic in the way characters are moved around the emotional chessboard. Viewers put off by such shenanigans may not warm to the pic. Those, however, who respond to Gallic jeux of this sort will be rewarded by terrific playing by the leads — especially Comedie Francaise star Putzulu as the seemingly confident Don Juan figure, and long-legged, offbeat beauty Wolfman as the very assured Claire — and a script that, even after pausing midway before taking off in another direction, maintains its freshness and invention. Even the device of having Alain and Sophie occasionally appear in scenes the former is describing is done with such elan that only the churlish could take offense.
Technically, pic is tiptop in all departments, with immaculately composed and lit lensing by Carlo Varini, and sharp cutting by Anna Ruiz that brings the movie in at an ideal 97 minutes.