THREE HEARTS – London Film Festival Review
There is bad writing and then there is Three Hearts. The French filmmaker Benoit Jacquot may have over twenty feature length films to his name, but his latest melodrama is so mockingly inept it seems more like the work of someone who has never written a script or directed a movie in their lives.
Parisian taxman Marc (Benoît Poelvoorde) is away from the office on business in a small but quaint town on the outskirts of the city. He misses his train by a fraction of a second and endeavours to stay the night at a hotel, catching the train back to Paris in the morning. On his way to find accommodation, he stops by a bar to have a drink and meets Sylvie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a middle-aged woman who helps run her family antiquity. The two begin talking and decide, in a scenario not unlike Richard Linklater’s Before movies, to spend the night walking the streets, getting to know each other, before Marc is due to leave in the morning.
Marc and Sylvie hit it off very quickly and decide to arrange another date, to meet up in Paris at the weekend. However, he suffers a heart attack on the way to their rendezvous and Sylvie, with whom he did not exchange a phone number, believes he has stood her up. The two adults embark on their own separate paths – Marc throws himself into his work and Sylvie emigrates to America with a new husband in a loveless marriage – forever wondering what might have blossomed from that second date.
Several months later Marc is approached by Sylvie’s sister Sophie (Chiara Mastroianni). Marc does not know the two are related, and Sophie does not know that Marc is the man her sister fell in love with. Sophie asks him for assistance in balancing the family antiquity’s books and it is not long before a romance ensues. As the relationship grows stronger, with a wedding date planned at the home of Sophie’s mother (Catherine Deneuve), Three Hearts builds towards the family’s reunion and the inevitable, explosive realisation that, for Marc and Sylvie, the one-that-got-away was right under their nose the whole time.
In order to make the core of Three Hearts’ narrative work – that Marc does not discover the identity of his fiancée’s sister for the many months they are together – Benoit Jacquot has to navigate some enormous logical crevices in his script. For instance, it demands that Marc and Sylvie make the preposterously unrealistic decision to not exchange any personal details (name, address, phone number, family background, etc.) during their first date. It also requires Jacquot to resort to laughable plot devices (e.g. Marc doesn’t like taking photos and that’s why Sophie has none to show her sister when they communicate on Skype) and have his intelligent characters make profoundly stupid decisions (e.g. Marc somehow ignores the family photos including Sylvie dotted throughout their family home).
Perhaps a skilled writer would have been able to handle the immense difficulties of telling this story with any semblance of sense or logic. However, a skilled writer Benoit Jacquot is not, at least on the basis of Three Hearts. It is not just his aforementioned attempts to cover up the gaping plot holes with moronic plot devices and baffling character actions. His dialogue is also as overblown as any soap opera, he resorts to a distracting omnipotent voiceover when the film requires explanation the script cannot deliver, and the myriad of mindless subplots (one including a tax investigation into the local mayor that is not connected in any way) demonstrate a lack of any restraint.
This ineptitude sadly extends to Benoit Jacquot’s direction too. He is unable to control Three Heart’s mood – most notably, the misjudged Inception-esque score that is wildly out of place – and it results in tonal unevenness, shifting uneasily between comedy, melodrama and suspense. It also leaves his talented actors, some of the most notable performers in France, left wondering what exactly it is they should be doing.