Euphemistically speaking, “seasoned” feels like the most apt way to describe lounge lizard Johnny Hallyday’s latest character, Jacques Kaminsky. He’s a weary war photog who wraps his high-impact career snapping cow portraits from a posh Rhone-Alps chalet in Claude Lelouch’s shamelessly sentimental (and equally self-serving) “We Love You, You Bastard,” a paternal reconciliation fantasy which this corniest of French directors dedicates to his daughters. After years of familial negligence, the leathery old so-and-so spends his last lap around the sun hoping to make amends to his four girls, each born to a different mother and named after a different season.
Suitable only for little old ladies and Hallyday lovers, this baffling blend of genres begins as a romance (the first buds of spring), shifts into family melodrama (hot summer nights) and ends quite unexpectedly with a murder mystery (one that resolves itself in the dead of winter). There’s even a Bastille Day bank heist along the way, though the details are mentioned only in passing — a shame, since it sounds considerably more engaging than the warm-and-fuzzy business in the foreground.
Once among the most popular of France’s filmmakers — and possibly still its most flamboyantly romantic — Lelouch clearly lost his touch somewhere along the way, and his 44th feature will do little to put the cheese peddler back on top. Like Kaminsky, who traded in shooting photos on the front lines of multiple wars for his new alpine bovine series, Lelouch now specializes in exasperatingly safe fare. Here, his hedge comes in casting Hallyday as his proxy, knowing the faded French icon can still lure a crowd, even if his performance range is effectively limited to making his blue eyes sparkle and/or moisten on cue.
Lelouch doesn’t judge as Kaminsky leaves Paris (and his wife, in the process) for a new life in the mountains (with new love Nathalie, played by Sandrine Bonnaire), though his four daughters are less forgiving, ignoring his calls and refusing his invitations to come visit. For a long, lonely while, the only ones around to enjoy the beautiful surroundings are the photog, his inexplicably smitten younger g.f. and the guardian couple who maintain the old farmhouse he purchased — not counting a well-trained bald eagle, whose cameo role swells to full-blown co-star status by pic’s end.
Then Kaminsky’s best friend/personal doctor (Eddy Mitchell) shows up, instantly diagnoses the situation and decides to bend the truth, telling the four daughters that their father is dying — a ploy that successfully compels them to visit, while creating considerable anxiety all around. Is Papa really sick? If not, how should he break the news that they came under false pretenses? Dramatically, fireworks should follow, but here they occur beforehand (only literally, alas, with a big Bastille Day show).
As the girls arrive by car, taxi and helicopter — the youngest, Hiver (Jenna Thiam), even hitchhikes, getting a ride with a black perfume salesman whom the film politely invites to stay, then promptly forgets about — Kaminsky silently notes how they have grown into successful, independent women, especially the eldest, Printemps (Irene Jacob), who is nearly Nathalie’s age. Meanwhile, instead of being assertive about their feelings or honest about how screwed up they are from having a serial womanizer for a dad, they instantly go in for the group hug — an impulse totally in keeping with the pic’s easy-listening soundtrack, which seems better suited to a dreary hotel bar.
Inspired at least in part by his own life, Lelouch has seven daughters, the first few of which were also spaced roughly seven years apart. Perhaps that’s why the film so gently sides with Kaminsky, rather than whatever his offspring must be feeling, especially just after Dad drops his bombshell. Automne (Sarah Kazemy, the weakest of the four) throws a small fit, but it blows over quickly, and as the girls inexplicably unwind half-naked in a nearby waterfall, Lelouch pulls a cruel trick, killing off one of the main characters — a misstep from which the story never recovers. The bastard!