Dir: Stephane Brize. Fr.2005. 95mins.
French director StephaneBrize's second feature after Hometown Blues (1999), Not Here To BeLoved is more a slow, intimate study of two repressed characters than astraightforward romantic comedy. The film's measured dosing of humour andpassion takes its cue from the tango music, which is central to the odd-couplestoryline.
Visuallyrather drab - though this fits in with the central character's blocked andshabby provincial life - Not Here To Be Loved is affecting without reallylingering in the memory.
InFrancophone Europe the film should post respectable results, but itstraditional craftsmanship will make this a difficult sell in other territories,as it is rather too delicate to stand out in the crowded arthouse market.
Onelook at fiftysomething Jean-Claude (a magnificently droll Patrick Chesnais)tells us more than three pages of backstory: with his set mouth, his droopymoustache, his ill-fitting off-the-peg suits, his grey hair worn long to coverthe bald patch, he seems to have had the life scooped out of him and replacedby a rusty watch mechanism.
Heworks as a bailiff, serving court orders on tenants who are behind with theirrent. He inherited the job from his father, a crabby old codger who Jean-Claudevisits once a week, soaking up the old man's tempers the way he soaks up thedefaulting tenants' tears and insults.
WhenJean-Claude signs up for tango lessons at the dance school opposite his office,his bottled-up emotions are slowly uncorked, largely thanks to Francoise (AnneConsigny), a younger woman who develops a crush on him, although she is on theeve of getting married to a blocked novelist.
There'ssomething of Patrice Leconte's The Man On the Train about the story,with Chesnais taking the Jean Rochefort role of an older man almost, but notquite, beaten into submission by his provincial routine, and looking foradventure (romantic, in this case) before it's too late.
Thecharm of the script is all in the elegance of its steady build to the crisispoint, when Jean-Claude finally rejects the father who has ruined his life andthe docile Francoise realises that she has spent her life doing what wasexpected of her, rather than what she wanted.
Comicminor characters provide some side lighting, like Jean-Claude's timid son, whojoins the family firm just as his father had done, and who has far toosensitive a nature to be a bailiff; or Francoise's bossy mother, who tries totake control of her daughter's wedding plans.
Theslightly schematic feel of the whole thing is compensated for by Brize's surecommand of bittersweet tonal shifts: moments of humour (like a hilarious scenein a perfume shop) release the pressure of the deferred romance.
Pacing,though, is not the director's forte: a number of scenes open too early,sacrificing the dramatic tension while we wait for them to warm up. Some willfind the tango scenes - filmed with a waltzing handheld camera, and scored bynew-tango supremos Eduardo Makaroff and Christoph H Muller of the Gotan Project- a little too long, but the mystery of the passion of this apparentlymismatched couple is all in their dancefloor chemistry.
Rezo Films International
Christoph H Muller