L'Homme de Sa Vie
Toronto Film Fest 2006–“The Man of My Life,” the second film from Zabou Breitman, the actress turned director, has a good cast, it stars Bernard Campan, Charles Berling, and La Drucker, but is not as good as her feature debut,
The film premiered as an official selection of last year's Toronto Film Festival, then played a number of gay festivals, such as Newfest and Outfest, and at this year's edition of Rendez-Vous With French Cinema. It is now being released by the entrepreneurial Strand, one of the few keepers of the foreign-language flame in the U.S.
I wish I could be more excited about “Man of My Life,” whose English title is not entirely accurate translation of the French; it should be “The Man of Her Life.” Overall, the film strikes me as a minor work about the new gender roles and sexual politics, the kind of routine feature that the French cinema is making year after year.
Tough more experimental in form, visual style, and even narrative than her debut, ultimately “Man of My Life” is a disappointing work, displaying problems that usually burden first films: Self-conscious approach, pretentious artiness, and excessive style at the expense of substance.
Thematically, “Man of My Life” Explore the evolving bond between a married hetero and a gay guy, who initially could not have been more different. The setting is familiar from works by Louis Malle and Bertrand Tavernier, and others. The middle-aged but still handsome Frdric (Bernard Campan), his attractive wife Frdrique (La Drucker), and their brood are spending another summer in their family house in the gorgeously verdant Provenale countryside.
Enter Hugo (the versatile Charles Berling, who's easily one of the busiest actor in France), a solitary gay man who has moved in next door. After a convivial dinner, Frdric and Hugo stay up on the terrace until dawn, exchanging their radically different visions of love. Unaware of their exchange, Frdrique nonetheless notices a distance opening up between her and her husband, and a powerful bond developing between Frdric and Hugo, a camaraderie that increasingly grows stronger and stronger.
Zabou Breitman and her co-writer Agnes de Sacy offer a detached perspective (from the outside) on the “peculiar” manner in which the two men think about themselves and other men, and also about sex, friendship, family, responsibility and commitment.
Frederique, a wife who's confident of her husband's devotion to her, gives some unconvincing monologues. Later on, her nude scene is touching, conveying the desperation of a wife to continue to be loved and hang onto her drifting hubby.
American viewers, particularly males, may find it strange if also refreshing, that Fredric and Hugo do not discuss typically American macho concerns such as work and sports, but the more “feminine” type, like sex, desire, love and marriage.
I wish the characterizations went deeper. The construction of gay character is particularly disappointing for a French film. Hugo comes across as a type of 1970s cinema, an ostracized homosexual, expelled from his family by a morally rigid and conservative father, who's also a stereotype.
Fredric's attraction to Hugo and the new concerns and doubts raised by this accidental friendship add an interesting dimension to the film, showing again the inevitable but real impact of randomly formed associations.
The scenes in the French countryside' old summerhouse are amiable and rather authentic, even if we have seen them before in many Gallic works. While the acting is good, the stylistic devices, impressive as most of them are, often call too much attention to themselves. At 113 minutes, this narrowly minded, intimately focused film extends its welcome by at least 20 minutes.
Frederic – Bernard Campan
Hugo – Charles Berling
Frederique – Lea Drucker
Running time: 113 Minutes.
Pan-Europeene, France 3 Cinema, Rhones-Alpes Cinema, StudioUrania production in association with Sofica Europacorp, Carrimages 2, with participation of Canal Plus, CineCinema, Region Rhone-Alpes, Centre National de la Cinematographie.
Produced by Philippe Godeau.
Executive producer, Jean-Yves Asselin.
Directed by Zabou Breitman.
Screenplay, Breitman, Agnes de Sacy.
Camera: Michel Amathieu.
Editor: Richard Marizy.
Music: Laurent Korcia, Liviu Badiu.
Sound: Michel Kharat.