Thursday, June 13, 2024

“BEATING HEARTS”

THE STORY – Jackie and Clotaire fall madly in love in their town in the north of France. She is off-beat but studious, while he’s a little thug, and though life ends up shattering their romance, nothing seems able to separate them.

THE CAST – François Civil, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Malik Frikah, Mallory Wanecque, Alain Chabat, Anthony Bajon, Jean-Pascal Zadi, Benoît Poelvoorde, Vincent Lacoste, Élodie Bouchez, Karim Leklou & Raphaël Quenard

THE TEAM – Gilles Lellouche (Director/Writer), Audrey Diwan, Julien Lambroschini & Ahmed Hamidi (Writers)

THE RUNNING TIME – 166 Minutes


On paper, “Beating Hearts” has all the promise of a showstopping cinematic experience. It’s an ultraviolent epic love story spanning several years with the kind of vibrant and robust filmmaking one would find in a movie musical. What could be a better night at the movies? Instead, director Gilles Lellouche squanders the film’s promise by over-indulging in style and intense drama, leading to an exhaustively overwhelming endurance test. Featuring two huge movie stars and breathtaking performances by a pair of fresh young discoveries, “Beating Hearts” should have been glorious, but it just ends up being a burning mess.

It’s the mid-80s in France, and the teenage Jackie (Mallory Wanecque) is starting at the local public school after being expelled from her Catholic one for insolence. On her first day, she runs into the slightly older Clotaire (Malik Frikah, who is extraordinary), a brutal little thug who barely goes to class. When Clotaire insults her, Jackie fires right back, and the sparks begin to fly. Later, at a dance, Clotaire gets into a fight with three boys, which he manages to handle on his own. For Jackie, her world disappears; she’s head over heels in love, and the two kids dance through the darkened school to “A Forest” by The Cure. It’s astoundingly beautiful, capturing the pleasantries of young love, but Clotaire’s volatile temper (and the film’s opening scene featuring an older version of him) hints at a looming tragedy that will likely soon come to pass.

Clotaire lives with his parents and five siblings in what ought to be a happy home, but his rage is uncontrollable, and only Jackie can get through to him. His willingness to take on all comers when the red mist descends soon brings him to the attention of Mr La Brosse (Benoît Poelvoorde), a local gangster who immediately begins to exploit the mayhem this reckless kid can cause. However, deep down, Clotaire is a decent kid who cares for his family and truly loves Jackie. There’s an adorable scene where Clotaire shows up at school with two trays of Jackie’s favorite pudding cups stolen off a truck, which he sets in front of her with a triumphant, “Bon appetit, mon amour.” The cafeteria goes wild, and rightly so. His penchant for violence is only due to his emotions being out of his control, not a true desire to cause harm. But then mistakes are made, Clotaire trusts the wrong people, and the two kids in love become separated.

As the film enters its second half with both characters in adulthood, the pace slows, and that’s when you start to feel its 166-minute runtime. Jackie (now played by Adèle Excharopoulos) is a dead-eyed party girl who marries a dull sales manager named Jeffrey (Vincent Lacoste, who does his best in a thankless part) because nothing matters, and she can’t feel anything anymore since losing the love of her life. The nasty scene where he first picks her up is filmed through a car windshield during a rainstorm, which looks pretty but is heavy-handed in ensuring we feel Jackie’s numbness. Clotaire (now played by François Civil, one of the most charming and expressive stars of current French cinema) is also dead-eyed but a brute out for revenge. The retaliation comes with a serious appetite for brutality through a life of organized crime. However, having lots of money, minions running around doing his dirty work, and nice cars is all meaningless since he doesn’t have Jackie to share it with.

The script in the later mid-90s scenes unspools as you’d expect, though the aggressive violence is shown mainly in montage form until the film’s ending. Well, to be clear, there’s actually five endings. The first one directly contradicts the kinetic and thrillingly staged gunfight that starts the movie and then shoehorns four plot twists – massive ones we’re meant to take seriously, no matter how impossible or contradictory they are – in the span of about five minutes. There’s no coming back when the audience wonders if this is a dream, hallucination, or maybe some separate movie spliced in by mistake. According to the end credits, Lellouche worked for 17 years to adapt the source novel (which he did with Audrey Diwan, whose own adaptation of “Happening” was leagues better than this) to the big screen, and it’s clear that during all that time he failed to kill any of his darlings, ensuring all of his ideas and footage, for better or worse, somehow found their way into the finished film.

Excharopoulos is a riveting, thoughtful actress who, in “Beating Hearts,” only gets to react to the men in her life. At the same time, Civil has to smother his charm and intelligence under stereotypical ultraviolence. It wastes their appeal, but Frikah’s and Wanecque’s work is superb. Either Lellouche should have focused on making an ’80s “Romeo and Juliet” or an entirely adult romance asking whether a couple who badly hurt each other as kids could love each other again later in life. One or the other would have sufficed. As it is, by featuring both timelines and throwing everything at the movie, stylistically and narratively, “Beating Hearts” overextends and loses itself.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Some spellbinding set pieces and intense moments such as the film's brutal opening and the dance number set to “A Forest." The dramatic performances.

THE BAD - Overstuffed, loses momentum in the second half and over-indulges on cinematic excess with little rhyme or reason as to why.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 5/10

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Some spellbinding set pieces and intense moments such as the film's brutal opening and the dance number set to “A Forest." The dramatic performances.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Overstuffed, loses momentum in the second half and over-indulges on cinematic excess with little rhyme or reason as to why.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>5/10<br><br>"BEATING HEARTS"