Love Songs: French Musical Leaves Us Cold

If the great movie musicals of yesteryear put a song in your heart, Christophe Honoré's Love Songs leaves you with a funny taste in your mouth. How else to describe Honoré's orally fixated post-postmodern operetta, the libretto of which includes lyrics like "Keep your saliva as an antidote/Let it trickle like sweet venom down my throat"? Those bon mots are sung by Alice (Clotilde Hesme), a sprightly Parisian newspaper worker, to her colleague Ismaël (Louis Garrel)—two-thirds of a ménage à trois rounded out by the ill-fated Julie (Ludivine Sagnier). Round and round the bedroom they go, coupling and tripling in various permutations, including the seduction of ostensibly hetero Ismaël by a blond high-school gay boy. Styled, very consciously, by Honoré in the minimalist musical tradition of the French New Wave (and Jean-Luc Godard's bed-hopping A Woman Is a Woman, in particular), Love Songs has been stripped of everything but its pastiche, as if Pulp Fiction had wandered into Jack Rabbit Slim's and never left. The actors—especially Garrel, once more doing his preening, neo–Jean-Pierre Léaud routine—wink and nod at the audience when they're not sulking about in cooler-than-thou ennui, nullifying any investment we might feel in their assorted couplings and triplings. That Honoré knows a lot about movies is beyond question—but from first frame to last, Love Songs stays as icy to the touch as one of its characters' premature corpse.

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