Thursday, 2 November 2006

Man of my life, The (L'Homme de sa vie) (2006)

As magical as the all-night discussion you had with your best friend years ago

You can almost smell the magic in the air, when you are lying in bed turning over your memories of summer vacations, the times you stayed up way after bedtime, or went out for a walk in the middle of the night when it seemed the rest of the world was asleep. It’s a magical time that exists outside of space, clocks, calendars, set apart from the strictures of polite society, social obligations, timetables and schedules. Unless a director makes a film about childhood, it is actually difficult to recreate or approximate this mystical feeling on film. The ultimate test of a director’s sense of storytelling comes when the script isn’t ornate, and when it can create that set apatness. Considering this issue from every agnel, we feel that actress/director Zabou Breitman has created a rare and mystical movie that is filled with magical moments.

In Zabou’s film, the story is actually simple and straightfoward: an extended family vacations in their château in the country. Frédéric (Bernard Campan) is the happily married husband of his namesake Frédérique (Lea Drucker), the father of their children, who come in 3 different flavours of hyperactive, weird, and extremely cute, and a devoted son to his widowed mother. It’s as disgustingly perfect a life as it can get, with Frederic actually making jokes about his and his wife’s names to a bunch of family friends who have dropped by for supper one evening. They’re such nice folks that they even invite the next door neighbour, Hugo, a gay man who skinny dips in his private pool when he’s not hitting the pubs.

In the evening, after supper, Frédéric and Hugo have a free-wheeling and intense philosophical discussion, the sort of good-natured talk between friends that lasts through the entire night into dawn. The two men talk about what it means to love and relationships; Frédéric thinks it’s the best thing in the world since sliced bread, while Hugo sees this as a form of death and stagnation. Both men make facetious arguments for their cases, provoke much intellectual ferment in each other, and by morning, it is entirely possible that they no longer hold the same views that they held last evening. It is entirely possible that they might re-examine their lives, all because of that one evening spent together, and it is entirely possible that they see something in each other as well.

No one knows for sure, but Zabou Breitman is the master of the story here, telling the movie (and insinuating much more) by splitting up the long evening discussion with flashbacks and flashforwards to show where these men come from, emotionally, and the ramifications on their lives immediately afterwards. Scenes are occasionally repeated from different points of view, intercutting with almost dreamlike sequences. It sounds like a mess, but actually plays out like a beautiful layer cake anchored in emotional logic and coherence instead of the arrow of time. Zabou is interested in capturing the fleeting beauty of the moment, flitting in and out of the changing relationships between Frédéric and Hugo, and between Frédéric and his wife, and offering audiences a peephole into every character in the story, through sometimes whimsical and arty but well-composed shots that seem to just capture the magical minutes and seconds.

Overall, Zabou’s simple tale interweaves around itself in such a charming manner, and is married to a perfect blend of dreamy visuals and music that you can’t help but be swept away by her masterful understanding of the human psyche, love and our attitudes towards it. All this effortless evocation of mood, emotion and feeling in the audience is something to marvel at, given that this is only Zabou’s second outing as a director. The Man of My Life is best consumed at a leisurely pace, in tandem with how the movie develops. Any attempt to find a motive or a moral in the movie, to figure out the plot of the story will only result in a missed chance to enjoy a well-told film.

First published at incinemas on 2 November 2006

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