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Sold by Studiocanal, produced and distributed by Mars Films, “Love at Second Sight,” Hugo Gélin’s follow-up to Omar Sy-starrer “Two is Family” – which scored a noteworthy €62 million ($67.9 million) outside France in 2017 – begins with a post-catastrophe Winter.

Wasn’t this meant to be a romantic comedy? Images of Paris’ River Seine half-buried by a glacier of snow and cold-curdled ice mark of course a metaphor, though its sense will take some time to register. The opening gambit of “Love at Second Sight,” is echoed by the ambition of its parallel universe premise. At high school, Raphaël discovers Olivia, also a teen, playing the piano with extraordinary skill and emotion. It’s love at first sight. Though young, they get married. Raphaël has some vague ideas for a pulp sci-fi novel, set in a wintery dystopian post-Apocalypse Paris. With vital input from Olivia, who puts her own career on hold, the novel gets published. A famed pulp sci-fi actioner novelist, Raphaël forgets about Olivia.

Until he wakes up in a parallel world where he has never met her, and she is a world famous concert pianist. Suddenly, he needs to win her back.

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An upscale multiplex comedy, “Love at Second Sight” is also a movie created in 2019. It’s a genre blender, a romantic drama but with sci-fi sequences, comedic scenes, and musical interludes. And, it plays out its story of second chance love  filtered though the prism of gender equality, asking whether Raphaël shouldn’t just put his first world on hold for the sake of the woman he once forgot to love. Starring François Civil (“Back to Burgundy”) and Joséphine Japy (“Breathe”), “Love at Second Sight” was a highlight of mid-January’s UniFrance Rendez-Vous in Paris, where Benjamin Lavernhe, playing Raphaël’s best friend in both worlds, would have been a candidate for 2019 Rendez-Vous best supporting actor, given his turns in “Love” and “Curiosa.”

“Love at Second Sight” is produced by Zazi Films, Mars Cinema, Mars Films, Chapka Films and France 3 Cinema, in co-production with Belgium’s Belga Productions. Variety talked to director Hugo Gélin during the Rendez-Vous.

The English poet William Wordsworth called poetry “emotion recollected in tranquility.” “Love at Second Sight” casts love as emotion simply recollected. Raphaël, in one reality, forget about his wife, Olivia. Waking up in a parallel world, he remembers her all too well. Could you comment?

A beautiful quote that I did not know! “Love at Second Sight” is indeed a film about the way we look at the people we love. Raphaël Ramisse (in reference to my idol Harold Ramis, with his film “Groundhog Day”), is intoxicated by success and looks only at himself, forgetting his wife who is still beside him, but not with him anymore. With time, we no longer look at those we love, they seem to us to be taken for granted, whether in friendship, in family or in love. In this movie, we approach in a comedic way this question, which is exciting to me: What would have become of us if we had not met the woman or the man of our life? When Raphaël is immersed in this parallel reality, he realizes how much his wife had been indispensable to his life, his success. Fortunately, there is no age to grow up and Raphael will have to “reboot” his whole life and win back the woman he knows best in the world!

While never pushed very hard, there’s also a gender subtext to “Love at Second Sight.” In the original world, Raphaël assumes his world as a budding novelist is more important than Olivia’s as a potential concert pianist. But she has far more extraordinary talent than he has but, as he forgets her, is too upset to pursue her art. Again, could you comment? 

There is nothing more enjoyable than projecting yourself into a character. Our characters are our superheroes. So yes, in the film Raphael is an artist, like me, and this is probably not trivial. But the main thing is the fact that the initial feeling that gave me the desire to write this story applies to everyone: Young people, adults, seniors, women, men, heterosexuals or homosexuals … In the end we only talk about love with humor. I’m having fun with the disciplines of these two artists. One succeeded thanks to the sacrifice of the other, and he is shown that without her, he wouldn’t have become anything. He writes stories, it’s abstract, it’s ideas written on paper. She is a pianist, so she also uses a keyboard but it’s concrete, because the music causes an immediate emotion.

So they need each other…

Yes, in the film, Olivia loses all her qualities of humor, craziness and talent because Raphael’s eyes are no longer on her. She goes off. When Raphael is immersed in this new life, she is no longer the Olivia of their adolescence but a great, beloved pianist, in love with the man who has been able to put her in the spotlight. However, she’s not completely happy because she misses what only Raphael knew how to give her. But with different paths, they remained soul mates, just like at the beginning of the movie: Something is greater than them and pulls them together, making them faint at the same time, they are unique. The movie is a quest to find the first spark.

“Love at Second Sight” is a wider audience movie with an arthouse edge, from its mix of not two but three realities: Raphael’s two parallel worlds in contemporary Paris and the imaginary world of his dystopian reality sci-fi novels. Is this how you see yourself as a director? A crossover between broad audience and art?

It’s a perfect description of what I like in movies. The more one is particular or original, the more I believe that one can be universal. My film is deliberately at the crossroads of several genres: Comedy and emotion, the “love story” and the “buddy movie,” the French identity and the Anglo-Saxon bill. I like to have fun with genres to surprise the audience while not forgetting to offer them what they came to see. I constantly seek a balance between respect for the genre and the best way to not respect it.

The opening scene is extraordinary, especially when one’s expecting a romantic drama. Paris, half destroyed, the Seine sunk in a post-Apocalypse winter. Did that cost a lot of money to create or are VFX really at the reach of many romantic movies? 

Spielberg once gave advice on how to make a good movie: You need a great opening scene, and a great closing scene. I liked the idea that you come to see a romcom and the first scene you see is of a different kind. I find it fun to think of the spectator being immediately surprised. “Am I mistaken?” “Is this really the film I came to see? “… And one minute later, we dive into the real movie, the one we came to see. But we realize throughout the story that this opening scene is not there by chance. Financially, it was a struggle to make a success of this scene with the budget we had for the movie. But my job is to arbitrate on risks and places where it’s exciting to put the money. I believe that with this film, the spectators get their money’s worth on screen. It’s a form of childish generosity on my part. And I hope the fun is contagious.

Could you talk about the musical pieces Olivia plays. Why did you choose them?

Olivia is one of the greatest pianists in the world in the film. I wanted some of the most beautiful musical pieces of the classical repertoire to illustrate her talent. I was looking for two things: the pieces had to be virtuoso and romantic. The main ones are Liszt’s transcription of Schubert’s “Ständchen”, Bach’s piano concerto, and Chopin’s splendid “Fantaisie Impromptu.”

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Julien Panié/Zazi Films/Mars Films