Last night, PJ and I rewatched Les Chansons d’Amour, a French film written and directed by Christophe Honoré and starring our favorite French actor, Louis Garrel. It premiered in the U.S. earlier this year, but we first watched it on dvd through Netflix. I liked it so much that I decided to buy it once the dvd became widely available. It’s a great film.

This quirky musical is ostensibly about ménage à trois between Ismaël, played by Garrel, his girlfriend Julie, played by Ludivine Sagnier, and his co-worker Alice, played by Clotilde Hesme. The film is divided into three acts. In Act 1, The Departure, the threesome, which, after a month of togetherness has begun to fall apart, is rocked by tragedy. Act 2, The Absence, looks at Ismaël’s attempts to deal with the absence of love in his life, but Act 3, The Return, presents him with an unexpected romantic opportunity in the form of Erwann, played by Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet. Here’s the trailer:

This film is unlike just about any other film I’ve ever seen. First, the music isn’t glammed up. The songs are relatively simple, and the actors sing their parts without sounding like professional recording artists. I really liked the tentativeness this brought to many of their duets (and trios), a feeling that often reflected the emotions the characters are expressing in the words of the song. Second, the opening act’s action blends realism with non-realism. Some of the characters’ dialogue (especially that between the three lovers) is playful and self-consciously performative, by which I mean that the characters know they’re performing roles for one another and that in self-consciously performing the role they are simultaneously making those roles “real.” These moments, however, are also recognitions that the three lovers are falling apart. They are trying to substitute these performances for the “real,” something that may only temporarily work. And finally, this film blends comedy, romance, and tragedy in a very sophisticated way. I think it’s rare for a musical to really explore the death of a loved one and to show how that loss can devastate lovers, friends, and family. This one goes there.