Cutting like a skilled sushi chef into the same raw material from which he fashioned two flawed features in under a year, Claude Lelouch has come up with a third incarnation entitled “The Courage to Love,” at last serving up the lean, involving ensembler that eluded him twice before. What seemed strained in “The Parisians” (Variety, Sept. 20, 2004) and comfortably contrived in “Men and Women” (Variety, May 9, 2005) now plays with enough melancholy irony to offset most accusations of trying to fit square emotions into round holes. Anybody who’s ever liked a Lelouch film will enjoy this one.
Lelouch will keep the lone print of “Men and Women” (which runs 2 hours, 9 minutes) for posterity, but reshuffled and pared-down to 1 hour, 43 minutes, “The Courage to Love” is now the sole version available for export.
Latest cut charges ahead, taking no prisoners. And yet, ample screen-time is still lavished on Lelouch’s love of meaty close-ups in which, with luck, emotional truths emerge.
By excising several of “Men and Women’s” story threads — notably the one in which a dying cop’s wife resolves to leave him for her married lover, and all but one trace of jazz club bartender Anne (Mathilde Seigner) being pursued by her boss — greater balance emerges in a pic that’s still bursting at the seams with anecdotal human adventures.
Via incremental shifts in how characters’ trajectories are layered, formerly far-fetched developments now register as entirely plausible within pic’s spinning globe of possibilities.
Lelouch’s characters tend to smile toothy smiles in a manner that’s standard practice in Hollywood fare but rarely surfaces in Gaul, even in commercials. This time around, the smiles convey emotional discomfort as often as joy.
In a bit of alchemy vis-a-vis both previous versions, Lelouch has somehow transformed two of the venture’s most problematic components into properly weighted building blocks. No longer sticking out, but taking their rightful places in the composite whole are the story of the rise and fall of street singer Shaa (Maiwenn) — whose voice is thinner than a communion wafer — and the score itself.
Particularly striking is the fact that the songs in Francis Lai’s score are now interwoven in a way integral to the story rather than tacked on. What felt like a stubborn celebration of mediocrity now plays more harshly and more convincingly, although it’s still pure melodrama.
Scattered local reviews have begrudgingly conceded that “The Courage to Love” is “honorable” and “not half bad” (pic was stealth-released with no fanfare except posters and a trailer).
For the record, Lelouch was so stung by negative press last September he took the unprecedented step of inviting moviegoers to see “The Parisians” — which was the first installment in his planned “Humankind” trilogy — for free (a one-time offer at a specified time, with helmer-cum-distrib reimbursing exhibitors) in hopes of building word-of-mouth. Even that tactic failed after the one-day spike in admissions.
While “The Courage to Love” is not a great movie, it’s been transformed from a listing ship into a sound vessel with an interesting passenger list gliding through intriguing narrative waters. As sole proprietor of the footage, Lelouch was able to exercise the courage to re-think — and make salutary adjustments from the helm.
Click here to read Variety’s review of ‘The Parisians.’
Click here to read Variety’s review of ‘Men and Women.’