Thursday, 15 July 2010

L'Arnacoeur (Heartbreaker) (2010)

(Dir. Pascal Chaumeil, 2010)

* * * *

Inspired by the 1934 multiple Oscar winner, It Happened One Night, and his own disapproval of his cousin's spouse, screenwriter Laurent Zeitoun arrived fantastically at a sinister and real business proposition: What if you could pay a smart super-stud to break up a relationship, and make a film about it? Romain Duris (De battre mon coeur s'est arrete: The Beat That My Heart Skipped]) is back with a bang, except that he does not sleep with any of his unknowing customers. Helped by his sister Melanie and brother-in-law Marc, Alex (Duris) is tasked to lie expertly, be cool, prolific but professional under personal and financial pressures.

Opening with shots of legs, cleavage, bums and muscles, and pamphlets for a wet t-shirt competition soundtracked by 'Son Of A Preacher Man', Heartbreaker feels like a misleading title. But after easy victories for pro seducer Alex, the challenge of a lifetime presents itself. Vanessa Paradis plays Juliette, an elegant and imperfectly (you'll see what I mean) stunning poor little rich girl. Oblivious to his smouldering and smiling, she immediately forces Alex into unfamiliar unease. In an argument with her father, checking that the correct "bodyguard" has arrived, she belittles Alex's appearance, who has to rush before a mirror and reassure himself: "My suit's fine. It's a Paul Smith." Juliette is marrying a Brit (recognizable as Kira Knightley's thoughtful reject in Love Actually), a sensitive, flawless stereotype, and her father is determined to stop his daughter from committing to "boredom". Who are you going to call? Relationship-busters. This is bizarre and powerfully blithe.

Alex's smart sister and her clumsy husband are inexpendable in this team effort. They are responsible for "customer" research and camera surveillance, and their supporting-cast guises vary from hobo to waitress to racing driver. The funniest scam which made people fall off their seats laughing was something even more daring. Getting nowhere with a fed-up Juliette, Alex tells her he will quit "protecting" her if she pays him off. So Juliette writes him a cheque, only to tear it up five minutes later when he has flung himself against a car windscreen, sprinted after the vehicle and rescued her handbag from a "mugger".

Action and location profit from one another: effectively this is a film about the heat of seduction through a blacked-out window. The voyeurism, tawdry when Alex is watching his princess-victim undressing in the next room yet pitiable when he has "broken his own heart", is utterly compatible with tax-haven Monaco - where better to shoot than a morbid utopia where beaches make way for Prada, where champagne fills in for water, where superficiality is as considerable as the heat. Whether Alex and Juliette do or don't get together is thankfully unimportant. The wild, ridiculous plot (gangsters are filling in for Eros), the stubborness of desire, and one of the world's most gifted lead-actors satisfy at the exit.

Predictable and far from new, this could so easily have been a Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock hack-job - and perhaps it will become so, since Working Line and Universal Pictures have reportedly bought the rights for a Hollywood chronicle. But for now, L'Arnacoeur is a messianic event in a painful summer of cinema; elemental chalk in an Odeon reeking of cheese. Director Pascal Chaumeil's end-product is precisely a matter of defeating cliche. On coincidence (would-be lovers running to each other, meeting on a road) and soppiness (romances founded on Dirty Dancing and George Michael and U-turns), the film means to parody and bring them - as Romain Duris becomes - "alive". Every now and again a film comes along that speaks to every adult and can, ironically, do no wrong. Trust my judgement, and more importantly L'Arnacoeur's 92% aggregate critical rating, and go and see this hyper-cool, ensouled movie on the big screen.

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