Bizarre celestial happenings haunt a classic case of the lovesick blues in “The Third Part of the World,” a mildly intriguing sci-fi-logical drama from first-timer Eric Forestier. Part Ingmar Bergman, part Stephen Hawking, the tale stars actress Clemence Poesy (“In Bruges”) as a lonesome realtor whose guy troubles take on quasar-sized proportions when lovers begin mysteriously vanishing into thin air. Catchy tech package helps sustain the awkward combo of quantum physics and menage-a-trois antics, though the formula for this mid-June release has so far proved unfathomable for French auds. Life may yet be found in festival or arthouse universes.
The opening reels shuffle between flashbacks and present-day scenes of Emma (Poesy) and Francois (Gaspard Ulliel), two twentysomethings who cross paths in an airport and take off for a prolonged weekend of bucolic lovemaking. A physics researcher obsessed with entropy, gravity and black holes, Francois quickly falls for Emma’s mystifying persona, and asks her to marry him before he inexplicably disappears during a midday bike ride.
Back in Paris, Emma runs into Francois’ brother, Michel (Eric Ruf), who seems to hold her responsible for the vanishing. Meanwhile, Emma works her day job showing fancy Parisian properties, encountering a psychic Japanese client (Momoko Fructus) who unlocks a sealed closet in one of the vacant apartments.
When Emma and Michel begin having an affair in the spooky property, he too disappears, albeit in a more prolonged manner that has him slowly turning invisible before the horrified eyes of his wife and mistress. By this point, the viewer doesn’t need to be an expert in theoretical physics to figure out what sort of black hole is sucking in all these lovesick male protags.
With ambitious intentions backed by semi-solid filmmaking, writer-director Forestier manages to pull off the genre-jumping for about two-thirds of the pic. But in the closing reels, he needlessly sacrifices his characters to their less interesting supernatural fates; the more challenging option would have had them confronting reality head-on.
Final sequences, in which Emma metaphysically enters the cosmos in search of the truth, are more hokey than powerful, and Forestier’s use of intergalactic stock footage is closer to Ed Wood than Stanley Kubrick. The same goes for the endless references to astrophysical theory — many of them mouthed by a batty Italian professor (Jean-Luc Bideau) — that make the script often seem like an unrealized screen dream of the late Carl Sagan.
Thesp Poesy (who also appeared in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”) only half convinces as the gorgeous but shaken Emma. Ulliel (“Hannibal Rising”) and Ruf offer up steadier perfs as the two obsessed bros.
Score by Swedish rocker Jay-Jay Johanson (following his music for 2000’s “Confusion of Genders”) is a welcome change from the usual sci-fi synths.