mon 15/07/2024

The Nature of Love review - disappointing French-Canadian romance | reviews, news & interviews

The Nature of Love review - disappointing French-Canadian romance

The Nature of Love review - disappointing French-Canadian romance

Ambitious attempt to gild a standard comedy with fancy framing fails to ignite

Embraceable you: Magalie Lépine-Blondeau as Sophia with her lover Sylvain (Pierre-Yves Cardinal)

The Nature of Love joins a recent spate of films where older women enjoy what a mealy-mouthed columnist would describe as an inappropriate relationship.

Whether it’s Olivia Colman bedding a much younger black colleague in Empire of Light, Emma Thompson hiring a sex worker in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, or Anne Hathaway shagging a boy-band singer in The Idea of You, the scenario allows for smooching and soul searching in equal measures. 

This time the risk-taker is a French-Canadian philosophy lecturer in a pleasant but passionless marriage. Sophia (Magalie Lépine-Blondeau) is about to celebrate her 40th birthday and is under pressure from her elderly in-laws to have children with husband Xavier (Francis-William Rhéaume), but they sleep in separate rooms. Watching her mother-in-law fussing over her own husband, who has dementia, doesn't exactly inspire Sophia with hope for the future of her own marriage.

As Sophia is adept at lecturing her students on the roles of agape and eros in the philosophies of Plato and Schopenhauer, it's all too predictable that it's the latter form of love that consumes her when she catches sight of Sylvain (Pierre-Yves Cardinal). A hunky building contractor who's lived all his life in a small town, Sylvain's the polar opposite of her urbane, cerebral husband. Hiring the contractor to renovate the couple's newly purchased cabin in the woods gives Sophia plenty of opportunities to rip off his plaid shirt in secretive afternoon sex sessions. 

The Nature of Love sets out to be a screwball social comedy about intellectual snobbery and class prejudices in Canadian bourgeois society. Sophia may adore Sylvain’s muscles and the way he can fix a broken toilet flush in minutes, but insurmountable differences emerge when they've got their clothes on and put the tool box away. She has to damp down her disappointment when she realises her lover's romantic quote isn’t poetry by Rimbaud but a lyric by xenophobic pop star Michel Sardou. 

There are some lively performances by the supporting cast (including director Monia Chokri as Sophia’s BFF) but it’s hard to engage with the overly smooth features of the lead actress (pictured above), whose permanently eager-to-please smile never seems to reach her eyes. And the film's camerawork is so stylised as to become a distraction.

When not indulging in montage shots of forest animals and drone-camera sweeps over wooded landscapes that would work very nicely as screen-savers, Chokri and cinematographer André Turpin seem intent on framing every conversation in an obtrusive manner. It becomes a game of spotting what’s in the way of the lens this time – a window frame, a doorway, curtains, a mirror, another character’s head and shoulder. This filmic device is so distracting one loses track of the dialogue.

It is a shame because Chokri’s script is quite pointed and there are some entertaining rows as Sophia tries to acclimatise to her lover’s working-class family mores. The nuances of French-Canadian snobbery around spoken language may well get lost in the process of subtitling, but enough gets through to indicate that while Sophia may enjoy the fact that sex with Sylvain is so passionate she's burning an extra 500 calories a day, she’s not that crazy about his accent or vocabulary. 

As their love affair struggles to overcome the class differences, the sex scenes take on a humiliating and desperate edge that doesn’t make an audience more sympathetic to the characters. Sophia remains a cypher while the editorialising music is almost as obtrusive as the camerawork. Unsure if it's a sexy romcom, an essay on class divisions or an exploration of female sexuality, The Nature of Love seems unlikely to draw this summer’s absent cinemagoers back into the darkness. 

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