"Some would call this sophisticated, some would call it confusing."
Early in this French film one character says to another: "Can stories really describe the world?" It's an ironic question in the context of the film because over the next hour and a half director Olivier Assayas puts that question into practice. Like many French films that make it to these shores this one is less plot driven --with traditional payoff -- than a character driven exercise that only begins to take shape close to the end. Despite the arc of a usual story about three-quarters into the film something big does happen: one of the characters dies.Yet it's not too dramatically handled. We only hear about it as all the characters do yet it's an event that connects all the characters and brings them together. Up to this point the film seems to have no center just a free flow of scenes and talk amongst ex-lovers, friends, family and acquaintances.
Director Assayas uses an improvisational directing style (utilizing hand held camera shots, close ups and natural light) that deceptively make the film seem to have a random structure but it is actually rather tightly structured. Specifically with the use of six "chapters" which introduce and blend multiple characters and plots. In this way the film is similar to a series of interrelated short stories which have an accumulative effect that move towards a satisfying end.
The strength of the film is the performances by some of the best young French actors of today. The primary protagonist is Gabriel (wildly expressive-eyed Mathieu Amalric) who is sort of a disheveled chain smoking graduate student divided between two women and still undecided about his pursuits of work and life. Anne (Virginie Ledoyen) is his reckless new girlfriend and Jenny (Jeanne Balibar), his restless ex-girlfriend both of whom are dealing with the instability of their lives. The main character Adrien (Francois Cluzet)is a bitter, struggling novelist who's just turned 40 and is determined to make it big even though he won't compromise his skills for money; or -- for that matter -- of his choice in women since he is dating a 16-year-old girl.
There is a beautiful (and funny) angst about this movie that viewers often label or describe as being "typically French." And there are many scenes that can't be mistaken for anything but French: In almost every scene the characters nervously drink and smoke as they philosophize about grief, love, despair, regret and their ineffectual life in general.
Director Assayas whose last film IRMA VEP rankled some and impressed a few often drops us into the middle of a scene without establishing a beginning or end but as the film progresses the incidents and the facts of the character's lives come to light.Some would call this sophisticated, some would call it confusing, but the film's satisfaction comes less from the style and more from watching the characters resolve their daily dilemmas while coming to grips with their own mortality. - Matt Langdon - iF Magazine (http://ifmagazine.ifctv.com)