A dark pop musical about love (sort of) and grief (mostly) in the trendy 10th arrondissement of Paris, Love Songs (by nouveau nouvelle vague-er Christophe Honoré, whose work was last seen in Seattle with the 2007 SIFF entry Dans Paris) is best enjoyed for its gorgeous stars, affectionate exploration of the neighborhood, and pleasant, unchallenging soundtrack. Unfortunately, the screenplay was written to fit the songs, not the other way around, so the plot is complicated and erratic—more erratic than the already hypothetical infrastructure of a musical can support.

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Ludivine Sagnier (Swimming Pool) plays Julie, the most beautiful and vivacious of three daughters in a loving family. She's dating Ismaël (Louis Garrel, as pretty as a fashion model and almost as inert), but as the movie begins, they've adopted a third, semi-sexual partner, Ismaël's coworker Alice (the awkward Clotilde Hesme). After four songs about the entertaining challenges of this arrangement, Julie suddenly drops dead of a blood clot. Not only does the viewer feel cheated of an hour of Ludivine Sagnier's presence, but in retrospect, it seems that her fate was foretold with an angelic white coat and little makeup—a very feeble attempt to establish that Julie was the dying-suddenly type.

For the rest of the film, we're stuck with Ismaël as he deals with his grief by sleeping around, shocking Julie's bereaved older sister (Chiara Mastroianni), and dabbling in homosexuality with Alice's ex-boyfriend's freckle-faced little brother Erwann (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet). It's a game of musical beds, but both the grief motive and sexual reward feel abstract. Still, the film never fails to fascinate, if only for the exceedingly French way it deals with ethnic types, from comic lines about Ismaël the uncircumcised Jew and Erwann the gay Breton to self-consciously sober shots of more exotic immigrants passing silently in the streets.

2021 Social Justice Film Festival: ACTIVATE | REFUGE Online
Screening 50+ films that inspire and demand community action, October 7-17 at socialjusticefilmfestival.org.