The Heart of Men

Four inseparable buddies in the neighborhood of 50 experience romantic ups-and-downs but never waver in friendship in "The Heart of Men." Agreeable, well-cast, slightly overlong ensembler is an honorable fiction debut by longtime film journalist and Studio Magazine founder-editor Marc Esposito.

With:
Jeff - Gerard Darmon Manu - Jean-Pierre Darroussin Antoine - Bernard Campan Alex - Marc Lavoine Francoise - Ludmila Mikael Lili - Fabienne Babe Elsa - Zoe Felix Juliette - Florence Thomassin Nanou - Catherine Wilkening Arthur - Jules Stern

Four inseparable buddies in the neighborhood of 50 experience romantic ups-and-downs but never waver in friendship in “The Heart of Men.” Agreeable, well-cast, slightly overlong ensembler is an honorable fiction debut by longtime film journalist and Studio Magazine founder-editor Marc Esposito. Local reception will almost certainly be warm. Offshore potential for this sometimes serious but never dour pic looks to be decent, unless buyers deem it “too French” in attitudes to life and work.

Alex (popular singer Marc Lavoine) manages to engineer at least one bout of extra-marital sex each day, while swearing to his wife of 17 years, Nanou (Catherine Wilkening), that “If I were cheating on you, you’d know.”

Alex co-owns a publishing firm, specializing in sports magazines, with Jeff (Gerard Darmon). Latter has been divorced for a decade from Francoise (Ludmila Mikael) and has recently begun a relationship with the spirited and devoted Elsa (Zoe Felix), a shapely twentysomething to his fit 53.

Twice-divorced Manu (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), a father of three grown children, runs a successful deli.

Educator Antoine (Bernard Campan) has been happily married for 15 years to fellow teacher Lili (Fabienne Babe); they have a 12-year-old son, Arthur (Jules Stern).

When Lili confesses to Antoine that she had a fling with a guy that was meaningless and that such a slip will never happen again, Antoine’s world crumbles. Alex’s wife strongly suspects — but can’t prove — his serial philandering. Meanwhile, Manu takes up with a younger flake, Juliette (Florence Thomassin), and Jeff entertains the idea of getting out of the rat race while he can.

The quartet of guys, who eat together, gamble together and just plain hang out together, provide a solid cushion of humor and camaraderie as changes big and small buffet their lives. Thesps ring absolutely true as lifelong friends, and all their problems are given nearly equal weight en route to an upbeat resolution. Rejoinders are snappy, and viewers are left with the cumulative impression that they, too, have known these guys for years.

Femmes take a backseat in terms of screen time but are obviously a constant presence in the men’s psyches. There are no sex scenes per se, but plenty of before-and-apres-sex dialogue exchanges during which, curiously, the protags are almost completely clothed. For a French pic, it’s unusual to see so many bras still in place in post-coital situations.

Lensing is clean, if a little gratuitously extravagant in places. Bulk of action is firmly anchored in Paris, with handsome views of the city as punctuation. Over-present score makes it sound as if there’s always a radio on in the background.

The Heart of Men

France

Production: A Bac Films release of a PJP Films/France 2 Cinema production, in association with Cofimage 13, Natexis Banques Populaires Images 3, with participation of Bac Films and Canal Plus. (International sales: France Televisions Distribution, Paris.) Produced by Pierre Javaux. Directed, written by Marc Esposito.

Crew: Camera (color), Pascal Caubere; editors, Benoit Alavoine, Christian Dior; music, Beatrice Thiriet; production designer, Jean-Jacques Guernolle; costume designer, Francine Lapassade; sound (Dolby), Jean-Luc Verdier, Emmanuel Angrand, Dominique Gaborieau; assistant director, Jean-Luc Roze; casting, Tatiana Vialle. Reviewed at Planet Hollywood screening room, Paris, March 5, 2003. Running time: 106 MIN.

With: Jeff - Gerard Darmon Manu - Jean-Pierre Darroussin Antoine - Bernard Campan Alex - Marc Lavoine Francoise - Ludmila Mikael Lili - Fabienne Babe Elsa - Zoe Felix Juliette - Florence Thomassin Nanou - Catherine Wilkening Arthur - Jules Stern

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