There are two big takeaways in “Someone, Somewhere,” director Cédric Klapisch’s return to Paris after satisfying detours to New York (“Chinese Puzzle”) and eastern France (“Back to Burgundy”). The first, which makes for the better movie, is you can’t love someone until you’ve learned to love yourself. The second, which drags the movie down, is that our hyper-connected era has, paradoxically, kept us from establishing meaningful relationships. Both lessons need to be learned by Mélanie (Ana Girardot) and Rémy (François Civil), lonely thirtysomething neighbors who’d be perfect for each other if only they could overcome their individual hangups, stop substituting computer screens for real connections and actually meet.
At this point, no one can argue that Facebook and Tinder are acceptable alternatives to engaging with the world around you. Had Klapisch advanced the idea 10 years ago, it would have been downright prescient. In 2019, however, his slams on life in the swipe-right era, even if gently delivered, give the movie a tired and dated feel. Still, a film from Klapisch is never without its upside, and his singular knack for examining with sensitivity and detail the relationship highs and lows of the 40-and-under crowd remains undiminished. The film is currently doing okay business in France. Should it earn a stateside release following its recent North American premiere at the COLCOA French Film Festival in Los Angeles, youthful audiences may recognize a bit of themselves but won’t be particularly moved.
“Someone, Somewhere” (“Deux Moi” back home in France) essentially ends where a romantic comedy begins with Klapisch more interested in prepping his two main characters emotionally for their fateful encounter. Events smartly unfold in the more down-market arrondissements of Paris where neighbors Mélanie and Rémy, who’ve never met, live in urban isolation, two gnats struggling with low-boil depression in a metropolis too enormous and chaotic to concern itself with their petty problems. He works in a gigantic Amazon-style warehouse. She stares at molecules at a cancer research center. He can’t sleep. She sleeps too much. These opposites, who are destined to attract each other, personify the rhyming French phrase that sums up the monotonous daily grind of the average Parisian: “métro, boulot, dodo” (“subway, work, sleep”).
After suffering a panic attack on the métro, Rémy starts seeing a psychotherapist, which his mother thinks is reserved for crazy people, while Mélanie, coincidentally, seeks out her own shrink. His therapist (François Berléand, terrific) is a slightly shambling, ready for retirement, social services psychoanalyst operating in a sparse office. Hers (Camille Cottin, also terrific) dispenses wisdom in what looks like the toniest drawing room on Avenue Montaigne.
Using therapy to reveal character is an overused device, but it provides much needed info on Mélanie and Rémy in a film whose notions of technology dependency and urban malaise aren’t new or insightful anymore. And seeing Mélanie and her two friends lounge around using their phones to order food and troll for guys comes off as a scolding from the 58-year-old director, who co-wrote the script with Santiago Amigorena. In response to his argument that online relationships are superficial, Klapisch throws in the character of Mansour (Simon Abkarian, glowing with energy), the smiling, helpful, flesh-and-blood owner of a local specialty market who gives bespoke advice to his customers.
All this becomes increasing beside the point as we learn that what’s keeping Mélanie and Rémy apart isn’t technology (initially, Rémy isn’t even on Facebook) or the emptiness of their urban existence. The problem is their inability to move beyond their debilitating family issues. But getting Mélanie and Rémy to their simultaneous breakthroughs strafes melodrama and reveals story architecture in a fashion one might expect in a Hollywood romantic comedy but not from Klapisch.
Civil and Girardot played brother and sister in “Back to Burgundy” and both are fine here with Civil squeezing maximum mileage out of his perpetually confused look and Cocker Spaniel charm (also deployed in France earlier this year in “Mon Inconnu”) while Girardot’s open face and natural, almost hesitant beauty draw us in. Their inevitable meeting is teased in tantalizing increments: first her cigarette smoke wafts toward his balcony, later he hears her singing, later still they walk down the same street, all the while never noticing each other.
Klapisch is a director with an open heart whose deceptively simple films often reward a second viewing to reveal additional layers. “Someone, Somewhere” maintains many of his storytelling and stylistic trademarks but its characters cannot take on a life of their own when they feel specifically crafted to make a well-worn point. As a result, a director so gifted in dramatizing the vicissitudes of emotional connections has given us a film that itself feels a little disconnected.