A self-assured 15-year-old girl is introduced to sex and love by a playful 40-year-old theater director in “Love, Math and Sex.” Helmer and co-writer Charlotte Silvera sensitively captures an adolescent’s p.o.v. as she did in the 1985 “Louise the Rebel,” but runs into problems of tone where most adults are concerned. Adolescent girls may admire pic’s heroine and fests may be attracted to thoughtful Euro-style treatment of a cross-generational romance.
Determined and enterprising math whiz Sabine (Julie Lapierre) lives in subsidized low-rent housing in Lille with her unemployed, debt-plagued parents and cute little sister. Sabine earns a nice income on the side doing homework for her dimmer classmates.
Mistaking her for a hooker when he spots her pocketing money from grateful young men on a bus, handsome Czech playwright Jiri (Georges Corraface) takes Sabine to a hotel. Startled to discover she’s a virgin, Jiri gallantly backs off but the logical Sabine announces she’d just as soon be deflowered by him.
Jiri is a former dissident from Prague who suffered in prison. Sabine, who compulsively quantifies and analyzes everything, sees life as a succession of problems in spatial geometry and algebra, all of which must surely have tidy solutions. But when she spots Jiri with another woman, Sabine, once utterly focused, starts to lose it.
Lead thesps are convincing — particularly in frank sex scenes — but Sabine’s parents (Agnes Soral and an almost unrecognizable Christophe Malavoy) are caricatured nitwits whose combined IQs would probably fall short of their daughter’s. Pic’s timing and motivations sometimes border on the contrived.
As the age of consent in many European countries hovers around 15, and Jiri is as ardent and considerate as can be, pic’s problems are not linked to the age factor. Rather, the wavering narrative has trouble reconciling false rape charges with the creative process, the pressures of scholastic competition and a fairy prince ending.
Lapierre registers as an analytical youngster who’s forced by a combination of brains and circumstances to grow up too fast. Corraface brings the requisite charm and a beguiling accent to a role that might easily appear sleazy were it approached with less finesse. Marie-Christine Barrault clocks minimal screen time as Sabine’s encouraging math teacher.
Movie’s bright, contempo look is pleasing, its musical score fitting.