DIRECTED BY: Yann Samuell
FEATURING: Guillaume Canet, Marion Cotillard, Thibault Verhaeghe, Joséphine Lebas-Joly
PLOT: A boy and girl carry on their childhood contest of dares into adulthood, when the game escalates into life-wrecking catastrophes.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s not weird enough to make the List, although it is offbeat enough to earn a mild recommendation—especially as non-treacly alt-Valentine’s Day viewing.
COMMENTS: When Love Me If You Dare came out in 2003, most critics pegged it as a flawed and unpleasant attempt to cash in on Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain‘s international success. With distance, Love Me If You Dare doesn’t seem derivative so much as part of an ongoing tradition of whimsical French romantic fantasies. Writer/director Yann Samuell’s twist on the formula is to cut the sweetness, not with the usual melancholy bitter, but with sharper flavors of black comedy that many found too pungent. While Jean-Pierre Jeunet is indeed the main stylistic touchstone here—both the French and American distributors were clearly hoping Marion Cotillard would melt international hearts the way Audrey Tautou had two years earlier—Dare both recalls and anticipates other Gallic romances, while forging its own path. The mix of brightly colored childhood nostalgia and salty adult sensibilities is indebted to Jaco Van Dormael, the unsung père of modern French whimsy. Some fantasy sequences play out on cutified versions of Georges Méliès sets—as when young Julien goes sailing through a sky of cardboard cutout clouds, or the children find themselves as Adam and Eve with a prop apple serving as their lapsiarian music box—while anticipating the crafty handmade worlds of Michel Gondry.
The Amélie comparisons were more of a marketing ploy than an accurate aesthetic description, but many reviewers took them to heart. Samuell’s movie got hit from both sides, simultaneously criticized for being too derivative of the hit fantasy, and for failing to warm hearts the way the previous film had. Critics who hated the film because the two main characters were too cruel failed to give credence to the underlying metaphor—that passion often involves an undercurrent of childish competition—but there is psychological merit in the notion. The increasing stakes of the dares—which move from mere humiliations (like wearing your underwear outside your clothes) to acute psychological cruelty to actual physical peril—take the movie into War of the Roses territory. They provide danger and give us a reason to keep watching, rather than the limp “will they or won’t they?” formalities of typical romantic comedies. Yet, for all the sadism inherent in their bantering, there is no doubt Julien and Sophie share a real bond, a hybrid of all-consuming love and hate that is, in a way, admirable for its purity and fidelity. They may not be a likable couple, but they are strangely believable one. Samuell’s script and direction are very impressive for a debut, and the acting by the four principals (young Julien and Sophie are portrayed by cute and expressive couple of kids) is above standard. Marion Cotillard may have been no Audrey Tautou when it came to launching a million crushes, but she ultimately proved the more versatile actress.
One negative note, though: sad to say, you will be sick to death of “La Vie en Rose” before the final credits roll.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“The dreamlike amber washes and comic visual asides stress the otherness of the pair’s reality, but seem to offer a limp excuse for their deluded exemption from empathy.”–Gianni Truzzi, Seattle Post-Intelligencer (contemporaneous)
[This movie was nominated for review by “tsross13,” who confessed “I realize this movie might not be weird enough (but the greatness of it, in my humble opinion, cancels that factor out)….” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.]
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