From the basic ingredients of a recently retired meteorologist and his amateur-painter wife plus a blind man and his shapely young spouse, brothers Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu fashion a fanciful tale about the fine line between boredom and unbridled sensuality in “To Paint or Make Love.” But sly narrative also sends up what local auds have seen a million times and what offshore auds tend to think of as the arty building blocks of Europics. Playful venture may rub some viewers the wrong way, but name thesps should carry this formal comedy beyond Gaul.
Set in the shadow of handsome mountain peaks, script offers a superficial story of libidos ratcheted up a notch by perhaps innocent — but possibly insidious — catalysts.
Aside from costume dramas, broad comedies and films addressing serious social problems, French filmmakers whose work is aimed at adult audiences tend to be urban intellectuals who add a country house or an exotic vacation to their characters’ inevitably harried or angst-ridden lives.
But the Larrieu brothers, whose work to date has shown people hiking, the mountains and the role of nature in modern life, reverse the pattern. They import presumed city slicker behavior to bourgeois characters whose living rooms are near woods, streams and mountains.
Madeleine (Sabine Azema) runs a thriving firm specializing in refurbishing homes. Her husband, William (Daniel Auteuil), is at loose ends since taking early retirement from his job with the French weather service. Their grown daughter Elise (Florence Loiret-Caille) has won a scholarship to study in Rome.
Madeleine unwinds by driving to a nearby valley to set up her easel and paint the Vercors landscape. From the distance, a blind man smells the paint and turpentine and cuts across a field to speak to whoever’s there. The man is Adam (Sergi Lopez), the village mayor, and when he discovers Madeleine and starts talking to her, he mentions that a nearby house is for sale and he has the key.
Soon, William and Madeleine decide to buy the place, trading their apartment in a nearby city for new sounds, new smells — and new neighbors.
Adam and his wife Eva (Amira Casar) come to dinner at William and Madeleine’s and then reciprocate the invitation. The younger pair and the older pair hit it off, so when Adam and Eva’s home burns to the ground with all their possessions, the newcomers gladly invite them to move in.
Pic portrays the power of fresh enthusiasms and petty aggravations with comic shorthand. Soon, Adam isn’t the only one in the dark or the only character whose senses are on full alert.
Nobody names their protagonists Adam and Eva by accident. Pic’s veneer of unpretentious cordiality cries out to be punctured — and this the brothers do with a wink and a nod to only-in-the-movies behavior.
Seasoned thesps are well cast, and straightforward lensing is openly appreciative of the pastoral setting. Songs, from “Nature Boy” to poetic standards from the French recitative genre, serve as wry counterpoint.