Chutes & Ladders
I’m a fan of Christopher Nolan’s work. I thought it a terrible shame that Insomnia got snubbed by both the Golden Globes and the Oscars this year. And even though I admire Memento a great deal, I regrettably must hold him responsible for the extremely annoying mainstreaming of things-are-never-what-they-seem reverse narrative.
Take, for one example, the new French film starring Audrey Tautou, À la Folie… pas du tout (He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not). Would this movie have been green-lit if it didn’t feature an unstable protagonist seeking to make sense of her personal reality as well as a brief sequence in the middle that plays in reverse and flings us, Chutes & Ladders style, right back to the beginning of the story? These elements carry a certain sexiness and cinematic street cred because of their association with Memento. But they also cut into the film’s substance, not to mention its characterizations.
Angélique (Tautou) is a gifted art student with barely repressed Daddy-abandonment issues and a desperate affection for her older lover, a cardiologist named Loïc (Samuel le Bihan). He is, of course, already married to a perfectly nice lawyer, Rachel (Isabelle Carré), with a bun in the over. And from here on, as they say, nothing is exactly what it seems.
In pseudo-Memento fashion, the movie first shows Angélique’s perception of their love affair, then, after the reverse-motion trickery, we get Loïc’s side (presented, fairly unequivocally, as The Truth). Director-screenwriter Laetitia Colombani manages this duality not by building a viable internal playland for Angélique, which will later be thrown into sharp relief by a more rational depiction of “reality.” Instead, the movie omits some dialogue and scene fragments, until we’re left with a herky-jerky compendium of episodes all but begging us to conclude, “Wait a minute. There must be something more!”
By the time Loïc’s version delivers its crazy, “subversive” climax (complete with the cheap irony of Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E” over extremely unpleasant images), the point becomes exceedingly unclear. Is it that love is an inherently subjective experience? (Except when it’s not?) That it makes us crazy? (Except when it doesn’t?) That we must lie to ourselves to lead fulfilling lives even at the cost of harming relatively innocent bystanders? (And where have we heard that theory before? Oh right, in Memento.) The film even includes a psychological ailment, erotomania, to legitimize Angélique’s behavior, the way Leonard Shelby’s very specific brand of amnesia provided a bedrock of clinical authenticity for his film’s labyrinthine plot twists. He Loves Me…‘s bedrock is, unfortunately, soft as talc.
Angélique’s understanding of events is complicated by those of her friends, David (Clément Sibony) and Héloïse (Sophie Guillemin), who indulge in their own devotions: David dotes on Angélique, and Rachel on her kid sister. But rather than offering insight into the primary romance, these other relationships function merely as vehicles for Angélique’s frequent bouts of exposition, clumsily moving her plot from one point to the next.
Still, Tautou floats through He Loves Me… in a world of her own, embodying a kind of chill that serves the film well. Recently, Entertainment Weekly‘s Lisa Schwarzbaum has called Tautou the “Kate Hudson of France,” for her frequent appearances in cutesy romantic comedies, but a more accurate comparison would be to Gwyneth Paltrow. Both Paltrow and Tautou have an ethereal quality best served when their characters are asked to exploit the solipsism that comes along with it.