Love Songs (1984)

“I wish they’d leave it to me.  I would fill the world with joy.  A safer place for girls and boys.”

I rented Love Songs (AKA Paroles et Musique) a 1984 film from director Elie Chouraqui based on the fact that it featured Catherine Deneuve. One of the leading lights of French cinema, Deneuve’s films tend to be decent productions–although the netflix viewer rating of two stars didn’t give me much optimism.

The film begins with Peter (Nick Mancuso), Margaux’s (Catherine Deneuve) wanker of an American husband. He’s packing and then leaves an empty house showing the odd visible facial expression indicating the twinge of regret. At this point, I thought he was being chucked out–especially since the film soon reveals that ‘workaholic’ Margaux is slaving away supporting Peter PLUS their two children (a very young Charlotte Gainsbourg is in the role as the troubled daughter). Peter, it turns out, is trying to finish his great novel, and for some unspecified reason, decides to leave his wife and kids, and return to America. Margaux gets the news bluntly delivered via a taped message. Charming.

But Margaux hardly misses a beat, and apart from a moment of angst as she listens to the message from her dearly departed husband, she leaps right back into the swim of things, and perhaps this is where the ‘workaholic’ accusation fits in. In her capacity as a talent agent, Margaux crosses paths with singing duo Jeremy (Christopher Lambert) and Michel (Richard Anconina). The two work as waiters and double as a café’s entertainment. But bear in mind that I use the term ‘entertainment’ loosely.

What follows is a lackluster love affair between Margaux and Jeremy. The affair draws Jeremy away from his close friendship with Michel. And when fame calls, well Jeremy has his obsession with Margaux to deal with. And Margaux’s heart apparently still belongs to her wanker husband.

Love Songs could have been a much better film. There are hints, for example, that Margaux is not just the workaholic her husband accuses her of being. This may be one of his excuses for leaving her, but then again since she is the sole support for the family, it’s difficult to take Peter’s accusation seriously. But what’s even more intriguing is the subtle, unexplored idea that Margaux prefers or even encourages her men to be dependent. At one point, for example, Jeremy begs for a night off from Margaux’s bed as he has an early audition the next day. Margaux, who is in the BIZ and should therefore be the one person on the planet who understands the delicacy of auditions, throws a little power-play fit and Jeremy gives in to her demands. This sets off a chain of events with severe ramifications in Jeremy’s relationship with Michel.

But the film doesn’t explore the subtler aspects of the relationships between Margaux and Jeremy, Margaux and Peter, Jeremy and Michel. Instead everything is clumsily done, perfunctory and we are ‘told’ specifics (Margaux is a workaholic, for example), and the plot’s subtler implications are left unexplored. The big passionate affair between Margaux and Jeremy is supposedly wild enough for him to take leave of his senses–temporarily at least, but somehow it’s just not convincing. Similarly Margaux’s relationship with Peter fails to convince. Here’s this man who gets on a plane and flies off leaving his wife in the lurch. Where is her anger? The dulled emotional response of these characters in the film (which after all is supposed to be a love story) left me wondering if the main characters have been lobotomized

And this brings me to the most painful part of the film: its music. Perhaps one of the reasons that the great love affair isn’t convincing is the terrible music churned out with nauseating regularity by Jeremy and Michel. Unfortunately since they insist in signing in English, the sickeningly sweet music is made vomit worthy by the truly atrocious lyrics. There’s a sample at the top of the page.” Again the film fails to convince me that these two crooners could possibly hold the attention of an adoring audience–let alone reach superstar status. In one scene, the crowd is screaming for more, and this just defies credibility. There are moments when the duo approach yet another mircophone, and I steeled myself, muttering, “bloody hell, not again!” But I suspect we were supposed to look forward to the musical moments and not fast forward them (as I did for sanity’s sake). On the whole, this is one of the worst French films I’ve ever seen. I think the netflix raters were too generous.

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Filed under Catherine Deneuve, France

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