Even in a romantic city like Paris, “Living on Love Alone” is no longer enough to get by, as evidenced by writer-director Isabelle Czajka’s impressive but flawed sophomore feature. This playfully realistic portrait of a twentysomething misfit going from job to job and guy to guy recalls such Gallic lost-gal pics as Agnes Varda’s “Vagabond” and Benoit Jacquot’s “A Single Girl,” with star Anais Demoustier’s captivating perf on par with her predecessors. But the film unfortunately takes a nosedive toward cliche-ville in its closing reels, making for a strong yet unsatisfying work that should nevertheless find intermittent love outside France.
Svelte, smart-alecky Julie (Demoustier) has five years of college education and a degree in communications, which is about as useful these days as a high school diploma. She lives in a closet-sized studio apartment in Paris, where she initially lands a job at a hip advertising agency.
But things don’t work out, partially because she’s a bit of a rebel and a bit of a ditz, but also because Julie’s employers treat her as just another cog in a country rife with overqualified graduates and high unemployment. The same can be said of her different lovers, mostly older men she meets in clubs or at work who don’t ask for much more than outright sex.
Thankfully, what could have been yet another depressing film about wayward European youth is filled with humor and surprises, especially in early scenes that reveal the absurdity of the corporate jungle Julie tries to penetrate: While her boss (Oceane Mozas) at the ad agency has her out buying sandwich platters or taking the creative director’s kids to EuroDisney, the manager (Laurent Poitrenaux) at her door-to-door saleswoman gig chastises her incompetence and then, in one of the pic’s funnier sequences, decides he should sleep with her as payback for being so condescending.
Demoustier (“Belle epine”) charismatically depicts a young woman whose wit and beauty are at odds with the cruel rigidity of the French workplace, and who doesn’t really know what she wants out of life beyond experiencing it from day to day. If helmer Czajka shows that the professional world has little patience for people like Julie, she also shows that Julie has little patience for them, as each encounter results in a lose-lose situation.
Julie soon meets her match in the dark, mysterious and seemingly jobless Ben (Pio Marmai), whom she crosses during an interview and then decides to follow on a trip to the Spanish border. But it’s here that the story flies off the rails and becomes a different movie — one that never convinces as a genre piece, but finds an all-too foreseeable conclusion to Julie’s predicament. This final section takes the easy way out of an important subject that felt more measured in its earlier reels.
Tech is marked by Crystel Fournier’s (“My Greatest Escape”) graceful, naturalistic lensing, while soundtrack is boosted by music from the Kills.