Director: Benoit Jacquot
Writers: Benoit Jacquot, Julien Boivent
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Benoit Peolvoorde
116min Drama/melodrama French with English subtitles
3 COEURS is a classic French ménage à trois where two provincial sisters fall for the same man. Chiara Mastoianni and Charlotte Gainsbourg play the sibling love rivals as Catherine Deneuve watches this classy affair unfold with a beady eye, as doyenne of the family antique business in Valence, a picturesque town in the Rhone Alps. Benoit Poelvoorde turns in another powerful performance as the object of their affections, a neurotic tax inspector from Paris with a roving eye but a heart of gold.
It all begins when Marc (Poelvoorde) misses his last train home to Paris and finds himself chatting up Sylvie (Gainsbourg) in the station bar. A chemistry develops as they walk and talk through the night and arrange to meet up in Paris. Quite convenient, as she’s living with her husband. But when she arrives in Paris the next weekend, Marc suffers a heart attack and fails to turn up to their rendezvous. Thinking he has lost interest, Sylvia goes home. Strangely, Marc returns to Valence but this time runs into Sophie (Mastroianni) who needs tax advice on the antiques business. The couple fall in love, she leaves her boyfriend and Sylvie is strangely brushed out of the whole affair. Meanwhile she has decided to follow her husband to his new job in the States.
To keep the tension mounting and the vital clues hidden from the relevant characters, Julien Boivent’s screenplay relies heavily on poetic licence – a vital ploy in melodrama: no mobile phones are used in the early stages of this story, although they are critical in the denouement, and despite the sisters’ closeness, it never dawns on Marc from the numerous family photos in Deneuve’s family mansion, or the constant skyp-ing that goes on between the girls, that they are related.
The enjoyment of 3 COEURS depends heavily on suspension of disbelief: it’s certainly a slick and watchable film with some subtle performances particularly from Charlotte Gainsbourg as the ‘dark horse’ of a sister and Mastroianni as the more straightforward one. As in Strangers on a Train, the vital clue lies in Sylvie’s cigarette lighter that Marc discovers among Sophie’s stuff and twigs that he’s operating on dangerous ground. Where the story falls down is in director Benoit Jacquot’s failure to realise that these two sisters, who clearly love each other, would not have exchanged photos of Marc and discussed the subtle nuances of the relationship before things moved on to a permanent basis between Marc and Sophie.
Deneuve is very much in support mode here; chain-smoking and eating her way through the narrative as the wealthy and wise bedrock in the girls’ lives. If you enjoy Deneuve’s traditional French fare such as A Christmas Tale and Kings and Queen then this will definitely appeal. MT
VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL runs from 27 August – 6 September 2014