You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Real Love’

Actor Bouli Lanners' engulfingly soulful performance accents Claire Burger's note-perfect story of a fractured family learning to mend.

Bouli Lanners, Justine Lacroix, Sarah Henochsberg, Cecily Remy-Boutang, Antonia Buresi, Celia Mayer, Lorenzo Demanget, Tiago Gandra. (French dialogue)

Running time: 98 MIN.

“All my life is loving you,” is a line of dialogue that, on the page, looks worn thin with familiarity, a little like the trite English title of Claire Burger’s solo directorial debut, “Real Love.” But to reveal that the words are spoken not by a pining lover during the dash-to-the-airport climax of a romantic comedy, but by a father unwittingly tripping on ecstasy, to his two teenage daughters and his estranged wife, is to hint at the nature of this gorgeous film’s gentle miracle, which is to take its well-worn, soapy setup and rinse it of cliché, so it comes up new and shining. For any father who ever loved his child, or any child who ever loved their father, “Real Love” brings real joy.

Floodlit by a superlatively sympathetic performance by Belgian actor Bouli Lanners, Burger’s partly autobiographical film, which she also wrote, starts in the aftermath of a departure. After two decades of marriage, and the raising of their two girls, Armelle (Cécile Remy-Boutang) has gently but firmly disengaged herself from the routine of her home life, and is moving out. Her befuddled husband Mario (Lanners) is in denial about the finality of her decision. “Take all the time you need,” he tells her as she collects some more of her stuff, but while the words are magnanimous, the tone is imploring. “All the time you need” implies that she’ll come back, a hope contradicted by the expression in Armelle’s tired but resolute eyes.

Mario is reeling, but hardly has time to process as he also has to deal with the reactions of his two daughters whom, for the time being, he is sole-parenting. Worldly 17-year-old Niki (Sarah Henochsberg) is on the threshold of adulthood anyway, and can relate her mother’s desire for independence to her own. But puppyish yet truculent 14-year-old Frida (Justine Lacroix) is a different story. Embarking on her own fraught rite of passage — a painful crush on Alex (Celia Mayer), a tough-talking girl in her class — Frida is resentful of her father (it is she who ends up spiking his drink with MDMA in retribution for a perceived slight) and loudly insists she’ll move in with their mother as soon as she can.

Initially, it is all Mario can do to hold on to the threads of his old life. He joins a local theatrical project to be close to Armelle, who works as a lighting designer. He calls her frequently, on the pretext of updating her about the girls, and frets over Frida’s dawning sexual curiosity — less because it’s same-sex than out of a futile desire to preserve her pre-adolescent innocence, and thereby to deny the forces of time and change, so destructive to his complacent life elsewhere, their dominion.

But even as Frida sulks through the forced jollity of Mario’s parental pep talks and drags her heels through the art galleries and theater shows to which he brings her, Julien Poupard’s careful camera picks up the underlying affection that exists between them — in the casual slinging of her foot across his lap while they watch TV, or the way her frostiness thaws during Mario’s impromptu car karaoke sessions. Burger, who previously co-directed the Cannes Camera d’Or-winning “Party Girl,” is careful not to vilify any of her innately believable characters. Armelle’s departure, though deeply hurtful, is never framed as wanton abandonment, and even as our hearts break for that central loss of love, each family member’s tentative experiment in finding it anew is painted in acutely compassionate colors.

The supremely confident, intimate storytelling, the unobtrusive warmth of the camerawork, and the piercing naturalism of the performances, direct us so precisely into the heart of each deceptively simple scene that Burger’s intense empathy for her characters becomes our own. It soon feels like we’ve known, and been fond of these people forever. In particular, Lanners, who carries most of the film’s weight on his broad, buckling shoulders, contributes an indelible portrait of Mario’s crumpled decency. He is a man suddenly confronted with the truth that even his ferocious affection for his family cannot stop the processes of growing up, growing apart, of falling into and eventually all the way out of love.

Modest though it is, Burger’s wise, tender film is its own sort of spectacular, putting the awe back into the ordinary, and ending as a testament to the humble hope that after tumbling through life’s topsy-turviness, we might, just possibly, land right side up.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Real Love'

Reviewed at Karloy Vary Film Festival, July 6, 2019. (Also in Venice Film Festival.) Running time: 98 MIN. (Original title: "C'est ça l'amour")

Production: (France) A Dharamsala production, in co-production with Arte France Cinema, Mars Films, Scope Pictures. (Int'l sales: Indie Sales, Paris.) Producer: Isabelle Madelaine. Co-producers: Olivier Père, Genevieve Lemal.

Crew: Director, writer: Claire Burger. Camera (color, widescreen): Julien Poupard. Editor: Laurent Sénéchal, Claire Burger. Music: Roc Chen.

With: Bouli Lanners, Justine Lacroix, Sarah Henochsberg, Cecily Remy-Boutang, Antonia Buresi, Celia Mayer, Lorenzo Demanget, Tiago Gandra. (French dialogue)

More Film

  • Suro

    Lastor, ‘The Endless Trench’s’ Irusoin, Malmo Team for Mikel Gurrea’s ‘Suro’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    SAN SEBASTIAN – Barcelona-based Lastor Media and Malmo Pictures have teamed with San Sebastian’s Irusoin to produce “Suro” (The Cork), the feature debut of Mikel Gurrea and a product of San Sebastian’s Ikusmira Berriak program. The film stars Laia Costa, who broke through with Sebastian Schipper’s “Victoria” and also serves as executive producer, and Pol López [...]

  • Ane

    Madrid’s ECAM Incubator Develops Terrorism Drama 'Ane'

    SAN SEBASTIAN — For the second year in a row, the ECAM Madrid Film School has paired a number of up-and-coming filmmakers with various industry veterans for an Incubator program part of the school broader development arm called The Screen. For its initial edition in 2018, this Incubator selected five feature projects, putting the selected [...]

  • Roma Cinematography

    'Mission: Impossible - Fallout' and 'Roma' Win LMGI Awards for Motion Pictures

    Two major 2018 releases – actioner “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” and critics’ darling “Roma” – were honored for film location work by the Location Managers Guild International at a ceremony this evening at the Eli & Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The 6th Annual LMGI Awards also recognized “Chernobyl” and “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” [...]

  • Soho House

    Soho House Lands In Downtown Los Angeles

    Warner Music, Spotify and Lyft are poised to welcome a new neighbor to downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District with Soho Warehouse, the third California outpost of the Hollywood-loved members-only club — and the largest North American opening to date. Hot on the heels of the Soho House Hong Kong debut earlier this summer, the private [...]

  • Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider'

    Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider' Gets a Concert/Screening Premiere at Radio City

    In a year full of major 50th anniversary commemorations — from Woodstock to the moon landing — why not one for “Easy Rider,” Dennis Hopper’s hippie-biker flick that was released on July 14, 1969? That was the idea when a rep for Peter Fonda, who starred in the film as the laid-back Captain America, reached out [...]

  • Costa Gavras

    Costa-Gavras and Cast on Nationality, Identity, and Cinema

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —  Though he’s been based in Paris since 1955 and came up through the French film industry, director Costa-Gavras has never forgotten his roots. “Those who are born Greek,” said the Peloponnese-born filmmaker at a Saturday press conference,  “stay Greek all their lives.” More Reviews Album Review: Samantha Fish’s ‘Kill or Be Kind’ [...]

  • Lorene Scafaria, Jennifer Lopez. Lorene Scafaria,

    'Hustlers' Director Lorene Scafaria: 'We Wanted to Treat It Like a Sports Movie'

    The star-studded cast of “Hustlers” didn’t just become strippers in the empowering female-helmed blockbuster — they also became athletes. When speaking to “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s movie podcast, at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month, “Hustlers” director Lorene Scafaria explained the extreme athleticism required of the movie’s leading actresses, who all had [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content