Feb 22, 2009

Not Here To Be Loved [15]

Dir: Stéphane Brizé
50 year old Jean-Claude (Patrick Chesnais) begins taking tango lessons, at his first lesson he meets Francoise (Anne Consigny), a beautiful woman of about 30, who is taking dance lessons in preparation for her upcoming wedding. They begin to strike up a friendship, and Jean-Claude finds himself falling for Francoise.

Not Here To Be Loved is a very low key film. Its odd couple love story, in particular, is communicated largely without dialogue; it plays in dances, in glances and in Jean-Claude’s nervous, inarticulate, response to Francoise. A standout moment, at a dance recital, recalled for me one of my favourite scenes in cinema – Jesse and Celine’s silent looks at one another in a record store listening booth in Before Sunrise – as Jean-Claude and Francoise each glance at one another, when they should be watching the stage. The chemistry between Chesnais and Consigny is electric, there is a palpable charge when they dance together and their one and only kiss in the film has an intensity and an intimacy I’ve seldom seen.

The actors performances also complement each other beautifully; Chesnais world weary before his time, beaten down by a job he hates and an elderly father (Wilson) who doesn’t appreciate him and Consigny sweet, open and friendly, and with a smile that could induce heart attacks in several male members of the audience. Neither performance really feels acted, and the dialogue trips off the actors tongues as if they had thought it up in the moment, especially in a wrenching scene at the end of the second act, which is masterfully played by both.

To his credit director Stéphane Brizé doesn’t feel the need for any extraneous stylistic flourishes. This isn’t to say that Not Here To Be Loved doesn’t look good, it looks great, but the camera and editing never call attention to themselves, instead allowing the actors to suck you in to the story. And you are completely sucked in, to the point that you’re rooting for Jean-Claude and Francoise’ relationship, even though you perhaps shouldn’t be.

There is a great economy about Not Here To Be Loved. Every scene, every moment, is cut to the bone; leaving barely a frame that isn’t absolutely essential. This is most welcome in the film’s ending, I barely see a single film these days that wouldn’t benefit from a judicious trim of its ending, but Not Here To Be Loved ends on almost the perfect frame, with an ambiguity that you just don’t get from most mainstream films, but which is so much more satisfying than tying the story up, whichever way you went, would have been. This is a beautiful film, with a real ring of truth about it, and some of the best performances I’ve seen in a while. I highly recommend that you check it out.

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