'The Art of Love'

Helmer Emmanuel Mouret loses his way among the bourgeois bedrooms and turns out a clunker.

Following a string of charming comedies spiced with wacky Gallic flavor, helmer Emmanuel Mouret loses his way among the bourgeois bedrooms and turns out a clunker with “The Art of Love.” The decision to tackle more stories than he could handle is only one of the problems with this tedious lovers’ farce, in which adults behave like silly children while obsessing over their sex lives. Mouret’s rep and stellar cast mean local biz should be strong following a projected late November opening, but it will take more than art for “Love” to transcend borders.

Aside from plain ridiculous characters who swiftly become annoying, the multiple stories are given uneven emphasis and are poorly balanced, making this a haphazard grab-bag. The letdown is even more acute because the opening is rather sweet, with narrator Philippe Torreton mentioning the special music spontaneously generated inside each person when he or she falls in love.

The concept is swiftly ignored, however, and it’s all downhill from there. Isabelle (Julie Depardieu) hasn’t had sex in a year; her friend Zoe (Pascale Arbillot) offers her husband as a loaner, but Isabelle declines. Instead, she winds up playing along with an idea from pal Amelie (Judith Godreche), who can’t bring herself to sleep with her best friend, Boris (Laurent Stocker), and so proposes that Isabelle impersonate her in a darkened room.

Older, lonely Achille (Francois Cluzet) is desperate for companionship and thinks he’s got it made when his neurotic new neighbor (Frederique Bel) appears at his doorstep in a negligee, talking about the possibility of an affair. But she’s conflicted and gives off more mixed signals than a radio on the fritz.

After many years of marriage, Emmanuelle (Ariane Ascaride) is feeling hypersexual, and reluctantly tells hubby Paul (Philippe Magnan) she’s got to sow her oats away from home. The last couple is William (Gaspard Ulliel) and Vanessa (Elodie Navarre), a young twosome professing eternal trust until jealousy rears its head.

Chapters are divided by ostensibly cute little phrases that do little to impose order on the messiness. “The Art of Love” is Mouret’s first film in which he’s not in front of as well as behind the camera, but it’s hard to see how that could have thrown him so much. It’s still possible to tell why the helmer is called a French Woody Allen, though Allen imbues even his silliest characters with an emotional depth nowhere to be seen here; Gallic charm has rarely felt so charmless.

Thesping is not at fault, since no one could do much with these lines and situations. Visuals are ultra-bright and perky, with little differentiation in lighting between indoors and out. Auds can at least rest their eyes on the lovely decor, proving once again production designer David Faivre’s impeccable good taste.

The soundtrack is awash in classical music, mostly the late Romantics (natch) but with smatterings of Gluck, Mozart, et al. It’s not impossible to imagine remake potential here, though a serious rewrite would be necessary.

The Art of Love

France

Production

A Pyramide Distribution release of a Moby Dick Films presentation of a Moby Dick Films, Partizan Films production, with the participation of Cinemage 5, in association with K-Films Amerique. (International sales: Kinology, Paris.) Produced by Frederic Niedermayer. Co-producer, Georges Bermann. Directed, written by Emmanuel Mouret.

Crew

Camera (color), Laurent Desmet; editor, Martial Salomon; music, Frederic Norel; production designer, David Faivre; costume designer, Carine Sarfati; sound (Dolby Digital), Maxime Gavaudan. Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (Piazza Grande), Aug. 6, 2011. (Also in Montreal World Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 85 MIN.

With

Francois Cluzet, Gaspard Ulliel, Frederique Bel, Judith Godreche, Julie Depardieu, Elodie Navarre, Ariane Ascaride, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Stanislas Merhar, Laurent Stocker, Philippe Magnan, Pascale Arbillot, Michael Cohen. Narrator: Philippe Torreton.

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