'With Love … From the Age

You'd have to be a coldhearted monster not to be at least mildly stirred by "With Love."

You’d have to be a coldhearted monster not to be at least mildly stirred by “With Love … From the Age of Reason,” an awfully feel-good dramedy from writer-director Yann Samuell. Starring Sophie Marceau as a ruthless exec who, upon receiving a series of letters she penned to herself at age 7, realizes life isn’t all about the bottom line, pic offers simplistic fare stuffed with “Amelie”-style visuals, but scrapes by with its clever premise and generally strong perfs. Late-July French release will attract schmaltz-seekers, but won’t yield local or offshore biz on par with 2008’s “LOL.”

Who did we dream of becoming when we were young, and how does that compare with who we are now? That’s the question facing Margaret (Marceau), a key honcho in a sinister-looking multinational construction firm, whose BlackBerry-dictated lifestyle consists of meetings, business dinners and programmed sex with her Brit partner, Malcolm (Marton Csokas).

Surprisingly, Margaret seems to be enjoying this, and it’s only when a retired notary (Michel Duchaussoy) hands her a stack of colorful letters written decades earlier that she begins to rethink her existence, and to slowly understand that the corporate nightmare is perhaps not all it’s cracked up to be.

To illustrate such ideas, Samuell (“Love Me if You Dare”) applies a veritable onslaught of stylistic devices, ranging from “Monty Python”-esque animation sequences to sepia-toned flashbacks that reveal the young Margaret (Juliette Chappey) — whose real name is the less classy (for France) Marguerite — as the victim of a hardscrabble childhood and broken family. These ’70s-set scenes also introduce her puppy-love buddy, Philibert (Romeo Lebeaut), and when the two reunite in the present (with Philibert now played by Jonathan Zaccai), the encounter raises yet another question about her flawless life.

If the idea of communicating with a younger, more idealistic version of oneself is attractive, the film never takes it beyond the predictably gushy notion that what really matters in life is falling in love, being with family and committing worthy humanitarian deeds. And while the pic’s first half remains intriguing as it reveals the mystery behind the letters (creatively rendered by production designer Jean-Michel Simonet), the drama slides toward tear-jerking hysterics in the closing reels.

That said, tears definitely will flow during certain undeniably heart-wrenching late scenes, though viewers may likely be in competition with Marceau, whose waterworks are unleashed throughout much of the final half-hour. Otherwise, the actress offers up a fairly spot-on performance, as does much of the supporting cast, especially vet Duchaussoy (“Dumas”) as a wise village clerk who provides the necessary tools of introspection.

Title comes from a popular French saying that when you turn 7 years old, you reach “the age of reason” — a notion that Thomas Paine or Jean-Paul Sartre would have probably found quite dubious, but one Margaret welcomes with open arms.

With Love … From the Age of Reason

France-Belgium

Production

A Mars Distribution (in France) release of a Nord-Ouest Films, Artemis Prods., Mars Films, France 2 Cinema, Rhone-Alpes Cinema production, in association with Cofinova 6, Coficup, Backup Films, Soficinema 6, La Banque Postale Image 3, Uni Etoile 7, Cinemage 4, RTBF Television Belge, with participation of Canal Plus, CineCinema, France Televisions. (International sales: Films Distribution, Paris.) Produced by Christophe Rossignon. Executive producer, Eve Machuel. Directed, written by Yann Samuell.

Crew

Camera (color, Panavision widescreen), Antoine Roch; editor, Andrea Sedlackova; music, Cyrille Aufort; production designer, Jean-Michel Simonet; costume designers, Fanny Drouin; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital), Pierre Mertens; sound designer, Thomas Desjonqueres; re-recording mixer, Thomas Gauder; assistant director, Alain Braconnier; casting, Gigi Akoka. Reviewed at UGC Cine Cite Les Halles 12, Paris, Aug. 2, 2010. Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Sophie Marceau, Marton Csokas, Michel Duchaussoy, Jonathan Zaccai, Emmanuelle Gronvold, Juliette Chappey, Thierry Hancisse, Deborah Marique, Romeo Lebeaut, Jarod Legrand, Alexis Michalik, Raphael Devedjia, Emmanuel Lemire.

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