We all know that person — maybe we’ve been there ourselves — hopelessly in love with an undeserving partner. Let’s call this person Lila. Lila’s backbone has dissolved into jelly; she mopes all the time and wallows in her masochism. It’s tough being around this acquaintance who keeps testing our capacity for sympathy, just as it’s tough being around Lila, the protagonist in Hafsia Herzi’s first feature as actress, director, writer and producer. Sure, it helps that Lila/Herzi has an impressive eye for male pulchritude, and she’s learned enough about filmmaking to deliver a perfectly respectable product, but it’s tedious watching Lila’s pouting irrationality without any sense of why this woman is catnip apart from her physical attractions. She’s merely the negative sum of her broken relationship, with all its storms and drama, and as such, “You Deserve a Lover” is unlikely to find much love beyond French borders.
Lila’s unable to control her impulses, which is why she tracks her boyfriend Rémi (actor-model Jérémie Laheurte) to his latest fling’s apartment, confronting him with his inability to keep it in his pants. With the help of her flamboyant best friend Ali (Djanis Bouzyani), Lila even learns where Rémi’s new woman, Myriam (Myriam Djeljeli), works, threatening to make her life a living hell. In classic studmuffin fashion, Jérémie tries to win Lila back, declaring his love and saying he just needs time, which is why he’s going alone on a trekking trip to Bolivia, to sort out his head. Viewers might be more lenient toward Lila’s recklessness were her boyfriend’s lies more believable, but being dropped into the maelstrom with no sense of the relationship earlier makes it hard for anyone to muster a sense of commiseration.
Ali’s suggestion? Have a witch doctor (Abdelkader Hoggui) cast a spell to make Rémi a devoted partner. Perpetually distraught but needing the tenderness of a sweet caress, Lila allows herself to be picked up in the park by Jonathan (model Jonathan Eap), but she sneaks out of the poor chump’s apartment while he’s making morning waffles. Everywhere she goes, men drop at her feet, such as smooth-talking stunner Sergio (model Alexander Ferrario), and Charly (Anthony Bajon), a nice photography student who sees her at a bistro and asks if she’ll pose for a school project. It’s Charly who supplies the film’s title, quoting from Frida Kahlo’s poem “Mereces un amor que te quiera despeinada”; it’s a nice moment but by that point, at the movie’s end, most audiences will feel they deserve a break more than Lila deserves a lover.
Besides opening itself up wide to charges of narcissism, Herzi’s script fails to anchor Lila to anything outside her current obsession. She’s got a nice, large apartment in Paris and apparently a job with a real estate company, but she’s never at work — her days are spent trolling her ex, strolling in parks, and getting hit on by hot guys. Drained of a life apart from her self-absorbed misery, she’s a burdensome presence that no amount of identification can relieve. As an actress (including three Abdellatif Kechiche films), Herzi is a compelling screen presence, and “You Deserve a Lover” shows she’s able to direct, but a feel for natural dialogue isn’t enough to make her debut feel like anything but a vanity project.