There’s plenty to see but little to take to heart in “A View of Love,” French actress-cum-helmer Nicole Garcia’s muddled sentimental thriller. Modeling itself at least partially on Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” yet with a story that’s too tangled in plot points to feel conclusive, pic features an unusually dour Jean Dujardin (“OSS 117”) as a real estate agent whose encounter with a mysterious blonde opens up a can of worms from his childhood in wartime Algeria. Short on suspense and unfocused when it comes to its characters, well-lensed “View” should see modest local biz and Francophone fest play abroad.
Like Garcia’s two recent features, “The Adversary” and “Charlie Says” (both also co-scripted by Jacques Fieschi), pic is dark, brooding and often rather obtuse in its exploration of identity issues among a group of attractive but dramatically inept protags. It’s as if the writer-director is better at concocting ideas than she is at communicating them to the audience, resulting in a film that appears more complex than it actually is, and crucially lacks emotional appeal.
Using a flashback structure to shift between Southern France in the 1980s and the coastal city of Oran circa 1962 (the year Algeria gained independence and more than 1 million Frenchman emigrated back to Gaul), the film follows Marc (Dujardin) and his picture-perfect marriage to Clotilde (Sandrine Kiberlain), whose father (Michel Aumont) runs the luxury real estate agency where Marc specializes in selling high-end properties. A visit to a sprawling chateau brings Marc face-to-face with a striking buyer (Marie-Josee Croze), whom he believes to be a childhood flame, Cathy, a girl he lost touch with once his family fled to France.
Several clues suggest the woman is not who she claims to be, but Marc falls for her anyway, blinded by passion and the nostalgia for his lost childhood, revealed in scenes showing young Marc (Romain Millot) and young Cathy (Solene Forveille) happy as clams while Algeria falls to pieces around them. Eventually the older Marc realizes something is afoul, at which point the narrative is overrun with benign details and scenaristic shifts (including a car crash that happens for no apparent reason), leaving its protag’s p.o.v. for so long that we never regain interest in his quest.
In contrast to Michael Haneke’s “Cache,” which also depicted how France’s colonial history can come back to roost several decades later, “A View of Love” uses Marc’s past as a mere MacGuffin, offering little sociopolitical perspective on the events. What could have been the most interesting aspect of the story is soon outweighed by a convoluted tale of envy and corruption, and the pic’s historical significance falls by the wayside.
With a “Vertigo”-like atmosphere courtesy of eerie Cote d’Azur settings, and backlit widescreen imagery by Jean-Marc Fabre (“Change of Plans”), the pic does maintain a certain level of suspense in its early reels, with Croze doing a decent job channeling Kim Novak’s elusive blonde victim-cum-accomplice. Compared with his typical comic showcasing, Dujardin offers a restrained performance that borders on comatose, and Marc often seems little more than a bystander in a story that eludes him as much as it does the viewer.