Le Courage d’Aimer is a romantic tale of infidelity, murder, suicide, and, above all else, love. Yeah, it’s French.
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The latest movie from Claude Lelouch, whose films include a modern-day spin on Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, is a breezy affair of the heart. While there’s plenty of drama, the greatest satisfaction comes from the comedic elements, which careen from black humor to sweetly romantic.
Like Les Miserables, there are numerous tales to be told in the grand city of Paris. For starters, there’s Shaa (Maiwenn, The Fifth Element). As the film begins, she’s caught shoplifting perfume; unlike Jean Valjean, though, she doesn’t dream of becoming a mayor, she simply wants to become a pop singer.
To that end, she joins forces with one of the city’s many street performers. Massimo’s a talented Italian singer (Massimo Ranieri, Volare!), but when the duo start to ride the waves of success through the Parisian club scene, their relationship comes into question: are they a real team or is one just riding on the success of the other?
In this carefully choreographed tango, Anne (Mathilde Seigner, Palais Royal!) is a waitress in the club that bears witness to the meteoric success of Shaa and Massimo. Her twin sister, Clementine, is a maid at a mansion newly purchased by Michel Gorkini (Michel Leeb, Les Amies de Ma Femme), a Russian pizza baron who falls in love with Sabine (Arielle Dombasle, Deux), the previous owner of the house, who in turn has an affair with Michel’s driver, who is also romancing Clementine!
At one point Michel comments on how France’s motto should be changed from “freedom, equality, fraternity” to “freedom, equality, unfaithulness.”
There’s a delicious viciousness underlying many of the observations and subplots that helps make the film’s more sluggish pace forgivable. What Clementine does to her two-timing lover, for example, comes out of nowhere and sends her story down a whole different path.
Amid the many choices the characters face is a movie within the movie, directed by none other than director-turned-actor Lelouch himself. It’s a cinematic adaptation of Shaa’s autobiographical account of her rapid rise – and equally rapid fall – through pop music.
With that autobiography, Shaa’s career is reborn and her relationship with Massimo becomes all too complicated. Therein is a taste of the bitter to counter the film’s mostly sweet disposition.
While it is overly long and a couple of the subplots could use a little pruning, Le Courage d’Aimer succeeds more often than it fails. Featuring quintessentially French lines like “marriage is the perfect murder of love” and “happiness is better than life,” Lelouch’s film enjoys exploring the many faces of life and love.
The movie makes no apologies for some of Lelouch’s choices, which is a refreshing change of pace from the typical sap of American romantic comedies. Lelouch delivers almost equal measures of sugar and medicine in a concoction that leaves a pleasant aftertaste.
The sanest member of the film’s troupe of broken hearts is Michel. His story arc takes him from single, well-to-do entrepreneur to giddily married, to resignedly having to move on. His story is one of the lucky ones that actually ends on a happy note, with Michel rescuing his next “true love” from a calamitous fate.
Of course, in a romantic comedy with murder and suicide, not everybody gets a happy ending. But for that, only one thing can be said and it can only be said in French: C’est la vie.