THE THINGS THAT I LOVE MOST ARE Russian novels, Zimbabwean newspapers, British TV mysteries, Chinese poetry, and French actresses. Let's talk about French actresses. Of all the areas in which the French excel (philosophy, erotic literature, art) it is here that they truly stand out. The French have a gift for discovering and promoting actresses (Jeanne Moreau, Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, to name but a few) who don't grab you at first sight, but who instead -- gradually, over the years -- capture your imagination to the point of obsession.

The latest actress France has to offer in this regard is Virginie Ledoyen, star of Jeanne and the Perfect Guy. Though the film is clearly a homage to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, what sustains this film is not the music nor the dancing, but the stunning presence of Ledoyen. I first saw her two years ago in A Single Girl, and thought she was okay. I saw her more recently in Olivier Assayas' Late August, Early September, and thought she was rather spectacular. Now that I have seen her play Jeanne, a receptionist with a prodigious sexual appetite, I am captivated. Indeed, the next stop is obsession.

Some critics contend that what makes this movie original is that it sets serious contemporary issues (AIDS, French immigration laws) to music. I do think it is a great film and even enjoyed the music, but this premise did nothing for me. What makes the film work is the very idea of a woman whose sexuality is so powerful (it burns like a sun) that she has to maintain many relationships to expend and distribute it. She has so much, why not give it away?

But when she meets and falls in love with one man, "the perfect guy," she decides to concentrate all of her beauty and sexual energy on him, and it inevitably kills him. Can any man live so close to the sun? Impossible. At the end of this beautiful film, rushing to the funeral of the mortal man her brilliance has burned to death, she collapses on the street; the camera, realizing we are too close to her, backs away to a safe distance, but it is too late -- we are already burned; destroyed forever.

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