Dir/scr: Arnaud andJean-Marie Larrieu. Fr. 2005. 98mins.
The second film byFrance's talented, and as yet little-known, team the Larrieu brothers promisedto be a wild card in the Cannes competition. Given their inventive, hugelyoddball debut feature A Real Man (2003), their follow-up could well haveturned out as much a mood-lightening charmer as Agnes Jaoui's Comme UneImage was in last year's festival.
Unfortunately, the Larrieus'undoubtedly poised and intelligent comedy nevertheless retains little of thespikiness and genuinely surprising invention of their first film, which was asort of arty rom-com with hints of Godard and Jacques Demy and a bizarrebirdwatching climax.
Anycomparable edginess, however, vanishes in the decidedly softer To Paint Or MakeLove, a middle-brow, middle-class confection set amid beautiful mountainscenery, and best described as an erotic comedy for the A Year In Provenceset.
Strong performances,handsome visuals, sexy content and a slightly spurious, over-elaborated air ofliterate sophistication could make this a very saleable film, with a ready-madeaudience of traditionally-minded Francophiles, but its slightly smug cosinesswill turn off edgier-minded festivals.
Daniel Auteuil - in aconsiderably less challenging role than his lead in Michael Haneke'scompetition film Hidden - plays William, a meteorologist having doubtsabout his early retirement. However, his wife Madeleine (Azema) - who runs herown business and does a spot of Sunday painting on the side - is out with hereasel in the mountainous Vercors region. There she meets charming, nature-awareAdam (Lopez), a blind mayor who shows her a dilapidated house just waiting forrenovation to become a bucolic dream home.
In a flash, William andMadeleine move in, and having fallen in love with the region, also yield to theeasy-going charms of Adam and his beautiful wife Eva (Casar) who, on persuadingMadeleine to paint her portrait, promptly strips down to her socks.
When Adam and Eva's houseburns to the ground, William and Madeleine invite them to stay, but thevisitors turn out to be interested in more than the basic hospitality, at onceshocking their hosts and reigniting their conjugal passions.
With bizarre abruptness - adramatic device the Larrieus deploy cannily - Adam and Eva phone to announcethat they have high-tailed it to a Pacific island and, before long, William andMadeleine have decided to join them there. A steamy, but somewhat farcical codashows the couple discovering the unexpected advantages of entertaininghouse-hunters.
For the first 45 minutes orso the film is gently droll but also somewhat arch - not least because ofSabine Azema who, while looking glamorous and slyly sexy, cannot stop herselffrom unleashing all the mannered, knowing tics and moves that made her soprofoundly irritating in Alain Resnais's Pas Sur La Bouche.
Auteuil and a somewhatpleased-with-himself Lopez provide amiable, relaxed presences; only Casar looksill at ease in a role which never becomes much more than an alluring free-spiritedsexpot.
Thoroughly awkward as wellis the play on Adam's blindness, which manages to reinforce all the clichesabout blind people's sensuality and hyper-sensitive powers of perception - eventhough the film is clearly making ironic play of those commonplaces and of theurban couple's fantasies about the romantically earthy Adam. To underline thelatter point, the Nat King Cole standard Nature Boy is played twice onthe soundtrack, once - unforgiveably - in a version by Demis Roussos.
Things liven up considerablyonce the Larrieus start deploying their twisty approach to narrativeconstruction, throwing in some unexpected temporal jumps and using the theme ofblindness to motivate a clever formal device, in a longish, craftilysound-designed sequence in which Adam guides his friends through thecountryside at night, with the screen remaining in pitch darkness.
Much of the film, however,comes across as a shallow, sumptuously-mounted lifestyle product, withChristophe Beaucarne's elegant photography and designer Brigitte Brassart'shotly coloured interiors adding to the overall sense of highly marketable chic.
Even the culturalreferences, however - notably Stephane Grappelli jazz and an effectivelydeployed Jacques Brel song - come across slightly like as prestige elements,placed to enhance the film's cultural value just as William and Madeleine'srenovations boost the value of their house.
Overall tweeness isexacerbated by the impressionistic score, plus a somewhat enigmatic song,contributed by singer Philippe Katerine, who contributes an eleventh-hour cameoas a well-heeled swinger.
A certain brittle witremains intact from the Larrieus' debut, but the brothers seem to have settheir cap here at a slightly older, middle-class and middle-brow audience. Forall its ironic moral-comedy intentions, To Paint Or Make Love is a filmthat will soothe and flatter its audience, but - unlike itsornithologically-inclined predecessor - will ruffle no feathers.
Les Films Pelleas
France 2 Cinema
Rhone Alpes Cinema
Helene de Saint Pere