Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Love Me If You Dare (Jeux d'enfants)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 1 June 2004 at Landmark Kendall Square #5 (first-run)

Kids can be cruel, especially when the world has been cruel to them. Julien Janvier is watching his mother die and his father grow angry at the world as a result; Sophia Kowalsky is taunted cruelly for being poor and a child of Polish parents who don't even speak French. They soon make their life an endless string of dares, mostly harmless though infuriating to their families. They draw strength from this, but by the time Sophie (played as an adult by Marion Cotillard) realizes she wants more from Julien (Guillaume Canet) than friendship, they don't know how to do anything but challenge each other.

Love Me If You Dare is often unpleasant to watch. At first, it looks like it's going to be a story about two kids obviously in love who can't get out of their own way. That would be a less daring movie, but perhaps a more entertaining one. When the characters, who last talked when they were eighteen, meet again at age 25, the movie becomes problematic. What had before been a playful, if a bit edgy, relationship takes a sharp turn into cruelty. One could even, perhaps, describe it as sadistic. It doesn't seem like there's any reason for this escalation, and I found myself quickly losing sympathy for the characters.

This movie has a great deal of visual flair, making good use of digital effects and dream sequences. There's also one outright heartbreaking scene early on, as 8-year-old Julien, visiting his mother in the hospital, is angry that Sophie has come to see him; in a moment that foreshadows their teen years, she sadly realizes she is "only good for playing". But after that, it seems to have sections missing - the relationship between Julien and his father seems to become uglier than what we see in the movie would merit, and we only get glimpses of Sophie's life. There isn't enough information about either direction the movie could go - Julien's life isn't fleshed out enough for it to be about him, but Sophie is given rather short shrift for a movie about their relationship. And then it seems like quite a leap to get from the climax to the ending.

Or endings, plural. There are two, that run parallel, as if the director shot one light and one dark but couldn't decide which he preferred. One is pretty clearly the "primary" ending, but even that one is somewhat different in tone than the way it's established in the beginning, before the rest of the movie is told in flashback. That inconsistency is maddening; it doesn't work in terms of making the relationship seem complicated, but just arbitrary.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your review was bang-on for me. There is something fatalistically creepy about that opening/closing image, and the overlays of the old couple don't work. Perhaps the director is suggesting that in taking that the old people sequence represents what they think they are achieving?

If the sequences you mention had been included, this would have been a stronger film.