The Art Of Love/L’art d’aimer (Emmanuel Mouret, 2011)

*This is part of my London Film Festival 2011 coverage. Four Films, Four Days …
“Je t’aime, je t’aime, je t’aime” 
Introduction
I think, as I have only managed to see a handful of films at this years festival, I had to choose carefully which films would – and could – appeal to me. My thorough enjoyment of Little White Lies last year ensured that I would hunt down a product of French Cinema … and again, it seems to star actor François Cluzet. More importantly, this film owes a huge amount to Woody Allen, but whether it stacks up against Allen’s finest work or fits neatly into his Woody-Allen-without-the-depth work, we shall see…
Inspired but Retold
The thing is that Woody Allen seems to have cornered a certain style of filmmaking – films which show the upper-class discuss sex and relationships whilst they challenge their own ideas about sex and relationships. Top it off with a voice-over narration and some white-text on a black-background and it seems that you have an Allen-esque film. In fairness, all of these are by no means exclusively his – and the liberal attitudes to sex and relationships are equally European in their nature. Therefore, the question is whether the choice to add all these facets to the story supports what we are shown and told or is merely a style than can be easily reproduced? I am happy to report that it seems the former. Mouret, seems to capture a group of people that are all – like we are – seeking to understand what truly is necessary in a relationship, and more importantly the conflict between lust and love.
Multiple Stories, Multiple Conflicts
The film divides between four different couples – but whilst two stories are exclusively contained in short-story segments, the other two stories run intermittently throughout the film. Two characters begin their story as the woman reveals how she is becoming increasingly aroused by men around her and that, though she hasn’t acted on her impulses, she fears she will … and therefore must leave her husband, as she does not want to cheat on him. Another two are liberal in their attitudes to a relationship – they are keen to discuss everything that crosses their mind and, in the process, are not averse to having an open-relationship. Then we have a woman whose male best-friend is attracted to her and, in the hope to stop his advances, she sets up a meeting whereby he visits a hotel room and – in complete darkness and without any sound – the two are expected to have sex (by engaging in the fantasy, she hopes it will not be good enough, and he will stop pursuing her). She cannot go through with this and asks a friend to ‘fill in’ for her – willingly, her friend accepts with the man remaining unaware. Finally we have Cluzet who is desperately trying to engage in sexual relations with his younger next-door neighbour – who is herself very picky about her own expectations of men.
The exploration as to how important sex is within a relationship is highlighted from the outset – can sex be merely fun and games or has it always got a deeper, intimate side that can never be ignored. The exploration of whether lust can be separated from love – can a person fulfill their own sexual appetite without considering the consequences to how it will affect others? Though simple in the questions, the multiple story lines – and their outcomes – show how difficult it is to separate the two. 
Answers and Outcomes
 
The film is well-shot and manages to capture the relaxed and romantic Parisian lifestyle without explicitly detailing the tourist hot-spots – we wander through uptown-apartments and old bookshops with only half-transitions that reveal the Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral. The film begins unevenly as it is difficult to work out exactly how the film will progress – are we going to come back-and-forth between characters? But it picks up as soon you realise that it is merely highlighting different expectations within a relationship. Like many films from France, it seems that we are expected to merely observe the intermingling of these characters and consider what we would expect and how we can learn from their outlooks and ideas. It is interesting that small, subtle glances of characters outside of their story highlights that you never know truly what is going on. Our central character Amelie, obsessed with setting up her best-friend Boris is unaware of her own husband who – though we do not explore vividly – we know does not value his own relationship. Maybe the focus point should be the value of relationships – and how, finding someone who accepts you for who you are is what is important, not merely their attitude to sex. 
A fun film that playfully exposes liberal attitudes towards relationships – without ever becoming too preachy or judgemental in the process. 
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