The Alliance Francaise French Film Festival opens in Adelaide next month. Running from 5th – 24th March, the program is set to impress.

To launch the season, Palace Nova Cinemas presented an advanced screening of Benoit Jacquot’s film, Three Hearts. 

When a missed train sees Parisian tax official Marc (Benoît Poelvoorde) stranded overnight in the small town of Valence, the scene is set for a serendipitous encounter with Sylvie (Charlotte Gainsbourg).  After a night spent wandering through empty streets together, the pair fall in love and resolve to meet at a later date.  Having exchanged no names or phone numbers, when Marc is prevented by unfortunate circumstance from meeting Sylvie, it seems the lovers have been parted for good.  The heartbroken Sylvie unhappily moves to the USA with her partner, and Marc finds new love, this time with Sophie (Chiara Mastroianni). The catch is, that unbeknownst to Marc, Sophie is Sylvie’s sister.

Unashamedly a melodrama, Benoît Jacquot’s Three Hearts revels in some of the characteristic features of the genre- complex plot machinations and overblown emotions – and this proves frustrating and moving in not-quite equal measure.

3_cœurs_posterThe circumstances that arise from Jacquot’s plot contrivances are highly improbable, but are purposefully employed to establish the love triangle and allow the ensuing complications to unfold. While at times, scenarios seem to be more artificial than is strictly necessary to move the plot forward, for the most part they provide satisfying dramatic irony and conflict.  Less successful is Bruno Coulais’s score; with its blasts of heavy, droning bass it is obtrusive and ill-suited. Likewise, the superfluous intermittent voice-over narration serves only to further over-explain the already ham-fisted symbolism.

Most inexplicable, however, is the purported appeal of the hapless, unprepossessing Marc whom we are expected to believe effortlessly attracts the sisters. His expedient fiscal expertise and kindness go some way to explaining how his relationship blossoms with Sophie, but the mechanism by which he instantaneously captivates the seemingly level-headed Sylvie in their awkward and charmless first encounter is less obvious, and sorely tests our suspension of disbelief.

In general, however, actor performance is the most endearing aspect of this film.  Gainsbourg  is noteworthy in her role as the tragic Sylvie, and expertly conveys, often wordlessly through her drawn and distracted facial expressions, the heartbreak and inner turmoil of her character.  Sylvie’s anguish when she is ostensibly stood-up by Marc is palpable and provides one of the stand-out emotional experiences of the film.  Mastroianni’s character is less romantic, but nonetheless well-executed, and the veteran Catherine Deneuve is suitably dignified as the canny, protective matriarch.

If you prefer films that are characterised by restraint, subtlety, and realism, then Three Hearts may not be to your taste.  However, if you can leave cold logic at the cinema door and embrace the quirks of the genre, you will be rewarded with an entertaining and insightful excursion into the human heart. Or three human hearts, as the case may be.

Check out the trailer below.

By Jessica Zotti