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Adele Exarchopoulos in Overblown Romance

Adele Exarchopoulos in Overblown Romance

If you took Magnolia, Goodfellas, Boyz n the Hood and perhaps Claude Lelouch’s A Man and a Woman, plugged them all into the latest version of ChatGPT and asked it to spit out a brand new film, you could wind up with something like Gilles Lellouche’s (no relation to Claude) swooning crime drama, Beating Hearts (L’Amour ouf).

A hodgepodge of movie clichés and overwrought scenes, directed with zero tact and plenty of pounding needle drops, actor-turned-director Lellouche’s third stab at the helm after his rather likeable ensemble comedy, Sink or Swim, is less a disappointment than a serious assault on the viewer’s intelligence. The fact that it premiered in Cannes’ competition, rather than in a sidebar “Première” slot, speaks to the general level of one of the festival’s weakest main slates in recent memory.

Beating Hearts

The Bottom Line

More like heart failure.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Competition)
Cast: Adèle Exarchopoulos, François Civil, Mallory Wanecque, Malik Frikah, Alain Chabat, Benoît Poelvoorde, Vincent Lacoste
Director: Gilles Lellouche
Screenwriters: Gilles Lellouche, Audrey Diwan, Ahmed Hamidi, based on the novel by Neville Thompson

2 hour 46 minutes

Sink or Swim was a major hit in France that grossed $40 million, granting Lellouche carte blanche to do whatever he wanted domestically, and with a budget nearly equal to what his last film made. You have to give him credit for trying hard, though the problem is he actually tries way too hard. Watching his decade-spanning saga of violent crime and amour fou is like having Lellouche repeatedly punch you in the face while he keeps shouting: Don’t you get it?? Don’t you get how fou this amour really is??

Screaming and face-punching are, in fact, major motifs in a scenario that was adapted by the director, Audrey Diwan (Happening) and Ahmed Hamidi from a novel by Irish writer Neville Thompson. The original book was set in working-class Dublin, which the filmmakers update to a northern French city in the 1980s and 90s bombarded with period swag by the art department, from cars to storefronts to vintage phonebooths. There’s also a litany of music cues played on old Sony Walkmans (remember that yellow Sony Walkman? Remember??) and Hi-Fi stereos, including The Cure’s gothic rock hit, “A Forest.”

That track is not only heard in full but featured in a choreographed dance number — you can toss West Side Story into the AI generator as well — where two teens fall head-over-heels for each other after first meeting outside of middle school. Both hail from modest families, though they seem to be worlds apart: Clotaire (Malik Frikah) is a hot-headed thug who gets into fights with other boys that Lellouche stages like veritable MMA combats. Jaqueline, aka Jackie (Mallory Wanecque), is a smart but rebellious girl who’s being raised by a thoughtful dad (Alain Chabat) after her mother was killed in a car crash.

It doesn’t take long for their two young hearts to leap into action — and if you didn’t get that then don’t worry, the director inserts a shot where a wad of bubble gum starts beating like a real heart. A real heart!!

Their budding relationship, however passionate, will be short-lived. Because he’s such a badass, and one who seems to lack basic human logic, Clotaire gets caught up with a local criminal (Benoît Poelvoorde) specializing in armed robbery and karaoke — because, why not? Soon enough, Cloclo, as the other thugs call him, is part of a gang that attacks the same port facility where his father (Karim Leklou) works, resulting in the death of an armored car driver that Clotaire takes the blame for.

The crime aspects of the film are never credible and always over-the-top, but Lellouche is clearly less concerned with plausibility than channeling a certain intense and fiery mood. And just in case you didn’t get that either, the movie’s opening credits feature a drone shot where the camera flies directly into a smokestack breathing fire. Fire!!

Cut to a decade later. The heartbroken Jackie (Adèle Exarchopoulos) has never gotten over what happened, flunking school and now working a day job at a rental car place. It’s there that she meets her company’s midlevel manager, Jeffrey (Vincent Lacoste), who dismisses her for being obnoxious, but then falls for her afterwards when she strips down to her undies on a rain-soaked street, throwing her uniform in his face.

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Jeffrey is a caricature of the French yuppie class, dressed in white polos and obsessed with modern conveniences and corporate success. It’s the most thankless role the charming Lacoste (Sorry Angel) has ever played — and just wait till you see what winds up happening to Jeffrey.

But Clotaire and Jackie also come across as caricatures of the French working-class, unable to control themselves or their emotions because that’s apparently what working-class kids are like. Lellouche divides the world into stereotypes that he amplifies in nearly every scene, as if the drama will somehow be believable if everyone screams their lungs out.

This happens quite a lot throughout the movie and especially during the last hour — the film clocks in at a gut-busting 166 minutes — after Clotaire (now played by François Civil) gets out of jail and tries to win Jackie back, only to learn that it may be too late. So instead of, say, trying harder, he transforms into a local Scarface, dealing drugs, breaking heads, robbing nightclubs, and counting stacks of cash as rap hits like Nas’ “Made You Look” blast at high volume.

There are plenty of dubious touches toward the end, such as the fact that Clotaire’s old pal from the hood, Lionel, reappears as comic Jean-Pascal Zidi, who sports an old-school flat-top and is nearly twice the age the character should be. Or the way Jeffrey transforms into something like Jeffrey Dahmer, creepily stalking Jackie around town when he finds out she still loves Clotaire. Or that lots of people are killed in drive-by shootings or epic car crashes without the police ever showing up.

To his credit, Lellouche maintains a brutally high energy level from start to finish, as if he’d been administered intravenous drips of Red Bull while standing behind the camera. That camera never stops moving for a single moment, and cinematographer Laurent Tangy (The Stronghold) deserves some credit as well for making the film look quite stunning, following the crossed lovers over beaches, factory floors and dance floors while they race toward their destiny.

The fact that Beating Hearts doesn’t deliver the destiny we initially expected is also to the director’s credit, although the last five minutes hardly make up for the other 160. Lellouche’s grand romantic statement is as simple as it seems to be sincere, but it’s also overblown and downright vulgar at times. Love definitely conquers all in his world, including good taste.

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