You can’t blame a gal for wanting to take a break from a scruffy, ambitionless b.f. like “Pause’s” Sami (Baptiste Gillieron) after four years. Audiences may feel the same way after just four minutes, though debuting Swiss director Mathieu Urfer’s intent is to make both Julia (Julia Faure) and us love this lost-puppy-like country musician by the end of what aspires to being a generic American studio romancer. Buoyed slightly by sweet English-language songs the helmer wrote himself, this otherwise flavorless feel-good pic would have been far more charming as a full-blown musical, a la “Once” with real production values.
Building on a background in shorts, Urfer has the directorial skills to make something far more interesting, but is limited by a screenplay (of his own design) that assumes we’ll empathize with a mopey character who, more than anything, needs a good shower and shave. Between his matted flannel shirts and old military-surplus coat, plus all those cigarettes and the sheer amount of time spent in bars, Sami makes one grateful that Smell-o-Vision never caught on. (Though a surprising number of scenes feature Sami in the tub, the poor sod never actually looks clean.)
But maybe that’s a male bias speaking. Ladies love a good project, and it’s not hard to imagine why Julia might initially have been attracted to such a hapless fixer-upper. (Anti-charismatic newcomer Gillieron looks a bit like Johnny Depp, or one of the unemployed actors who play him on Hollywood Blvd., at least.) When they meet, Sami is living in his car after being kicked out by his previous g.f. (she too gave him four years to grow up), and after a coke-snorting, mutual-bath-taking montage, the couple move in together.
Cut to the present: Julia holds an adult job, while Sami still spends most of his time hanging out with an old guitar player named Fernand (Andre Wilms), writing decent but decidedly noncommercial songs at a retirement home where the other residents are too deaf to be bothered by the music. A chain smoker and heavy drinker, Fernand is old enough for his imminent demise to serve as a plot point, but in the meantime, he’s a veritable font of useless relationship advice, coaching Sami through the eponymous “pause” (French for “break”), wherein Julia moves back in with her sister to sort out her emotions.
Sami’s convinced that Julia really intends to break up, recognizing that he needs to change but not nearly bright (or motivated) enough to know where to start. So instead, he wallows in his misery, tapping those emotions to write a song that we hear snippets of, but must wait until the final scene to see performed in its entirety. (It begins with the line, “When the stars are shaking,” volunteered by Julia in an early scene and which Sami belatedly realizes might be wise to include in a missing-you ballad.)
In the meantime, Urfer puts us through the agony of their separation, teasing the idea that maybe Julia’s sleeping with her boss (Nils Althaus) — who, guess what, turns out to be gay — or that perhaps Sami should just find another woman with four years to waste. It’s all taxingly predictable, but at least the kid gets a decent song out of it.