"What Love May Bring" *** 1\2 (out of ****)
The 47th annual Chicago International Film Festival has begun and for my first night attending the festival I was at a special screening for Claude Lelouch's latest film, "What Love May Bring" (2011). Mr. Lelouch graced the audience with his presence, where he was also given an award.
I have long been a fan of Mr. Lelouch, a filmmaker perhaps best known for the film "A Man & A Woman" (1966). For which he won an Academy Award for the film's screenplay. When I found out his newest film was going to be screened, I knew I had to attend. The last film Mr. Lelouch directed, which was distributed in this country was "Roman de Gare" (2008). So I was due for another Lelouch film. Plus, there was the chance this film might not get picked up. Another film Mr. Lelouch had screened at the festival, "Le Courage d'aimer" (2005) never found American distribution. Sadly the name Claude Lelouch doesn't mean much to today's movie audience. Those in attendance at yesterday's screening were of the older variety.
"What Love May Bring" tells us the story of Ilva Lemoine (Audrey Dana), a woman on trial for killing her husband, the very wealthy Jim (Gilles Lemaire). Her attorney, Simon (Laurent Couson) tells the court Ilva's life story as well as his own life story (why are all lawyers such ego maniacs?).
The film takes us back to the 1920s where Ilva's mother, an actress in porn films, finally meets a nice man, Maurice (Dominique Pinon, who was in "Roman de Gare"). Next it is the beginning of WW2. This Jewish family is now being watched by the Nazis. Maurice, unknown to his step-daughter, is part of the resistance. But, no matter, because Ilva has fallen in love with a German soldier. Soon the Americans enter the war, where Ilva's meets two American soldiers, Jim and his best friend, a black soldier, Bob (Jacky Ido). Both men are in love with her and she may very well be in love with both of them.
For the first 90 minutues of this two hour film, I was intensely hooked. Claude Lelouch has given us a valentine, a celebration of life, love and that glorious thing called cinema. I found myself captivated by Ilva and Simon's story. Simon, also a Jew, is sent to a concentration camp, where in order to survive he keeps himself glued to the piano. He longs for a woman he meet on one of the trains to the camp. One who has now vanished.
But then sadly Mr. Lelouch gets a little self-reflective in the last act. A little too self-congraditatory. There is actually a character based on Mr. Lelouch in the film. There is a brief montage of Mr. Lelouch's films. Then the movie becomes a movie within a movie. We see an audience attend a screening of this movie. These moments serve no function. There aren't needed and completely go against the tone the previous 90 minutues had established. It was here the movie started to lose me.
If Mr. Leouch, who co-wrote the film with long time collaborator, Pierre Uytterhoven, who wrote "A Man & A Woman", along with its sequel, "A Man & A Woman: 20 Years Later" (1986), should have edited these finally minutes and just keep the film as the story of Simon and Ilva. Why turn the movie and the audience on its head with all this tapping himself on the back. Yes, Mr. Leouch is a great filmmaker. No question. I even wouldn't have mind the character who is suppose to be him in the movie but when you start showing a montage of your own films in the middle of one of your films, in an attempt to celebrate your own career, I believe you have gone a bit too far. A great talent deserves to be celebrated but not by the filmmaker himself. It comes off a little too forced.
Still I cannot deny the amazing effect the first 90 minutes had on me. It is a lovely period piece filled with great music, mostly "Stormy Weather" and the wonderful French song, "I Wish You Love" and a lot of emotion. You begin to feel for these characters and their stories. Their struggles, their search for love.
As I walked out of the theatre I over heard many people say how great the movie was. Their was a big applause at the end of the film. No one wanted to leave the theatre after the credits, I assume because they wanted to hear what Mr. Leouch was going to say. I mention this because clearly their is an audience for the film. There are people who are going to enjoy it greatly. I myself love many, many things about the movie too. But, will it be distributed in this country? Will a wider audience gain access to see this film? I'm not too sure.