With five life partners and seven children under his belt along with a vast film oeuvre of surpassingly Gallic fluffiness, Claude Lelouch is back to let us know he’s still a fool for love. Well, loves to be exact, and the more, and more tortured, the merrier. “Un plus une,” a slow-burning, cheerfully retro romance between two strangers in a shamelessly exorcized India, should have considerable appeal for older audiences, depending on whether they rate Lelouch as a hopeless romantic or a hopeless misogynist working under cover of worshiping the opposite sex.
Let it be said that Lelouch’s lively co-writer is a woman, Valerie Perrin, and even the director has a quizzical eyebrow slightly raised at his own vanities here. But he also means every word of it, and if (like this critic in early adolescence) you judged “A Man and a Woman” the last word in lovelorn weepies, you’re going to like “Un plus une,” too. Like its star, Jean Dujardin, the film has scads of rascally elan, but you may have to take the afternoon off from your brain.
Those who think the hook-up was invented by millennials should meet Antoine (Dujardin), a middle-aged composer and dedicated one-night-stander, who’s on his way to India to score a locally made modern “Romeo and Juliet,” inventively retitled “Juliette and Romeo” to show off feminist tendencies. Back home, Antoine has promoted a much younger fling, Alice (Alice Pol), to fairly steady girlfriend, both because she “doesn’t bother me” and because she’s “myself with tits.” Unaware that he’s still an un in search of his une, Antoine falls, in excruciatingly slow motion and via cascades of disclaiming patter, for the more age-appropriate Anna (Elsa Zylberstein), wife to the French Ambassador (Christophe Lambert) in Delhi.
Much given to New Age prattle, Anna nonetheless has something that Antoine either lost or never had because he’s a mama’s boy bent on replicating his feckless absentee father (Venantino Venantini). Anna’s a believer, and because Antoine has a chronic headache of Great Existential Import and knows not which end is up, he joins her on a “fertility pilgrimage” to receive a hug from Amma, the famous Indian hugger here played by Herself.
Their road trip makes a lovely-looking journey, with fluid, lyrical camerawork by Robert Alazraki that complements the movie’s casual, loose-limbed rhythms as Antoine and Anna exchange yearning glances on planes, trains, and automobiles, and finally a Paris houseboat handsomely accessorized in shimmering silver. The rest is chatty filler — beguiling until it overflows and irritates — designed to nudge Antoine out of his self-protective iconoclasm into self-awareness.
The self-absorbed man-child must grow into a vrai homme, which would be fine were it not for the fact that Dujardin is more persuasive, and much more fun, as an overgrown kid than as a mature man. The actor has the bonhomie of Gene Kelly and the less wholesome allure of Richard Gere. He has physical grace to burn, and terrific teeth. He’s also a great, if slightly predatory comic improviser, throwing a proprietary arm around one Indian bus traveler and tickling the feet of another on an overcrowded train.
Antoine is vivid and seductive, but Dujardin plays more to the gallery than to his amiable co-star Zylberstein, who’s forever brushing stray hairs from her porcelain face and is little more than a slightly vaporous foil for his throwaway lines. Antoine is a type in a movie that traffics in types: Men are lovable scamps; a woman is “a perfected man;” India is a travelogue paradise filled with joyfully dancing slum dwellers readying themselves for the next life. As ever in the pantheon of Claude Lelouch, glam style prevails over substance.