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Grade: C-To Paint or Make Love (2005)

Director: Arnaud Larrieu, Jean-Marie Larrieu

Stars: Daniel Auteuil, Sabine Azema, Sergi Lopez, Amira Casar

Release Company: Pyramide Distribution

MPAA Rating: R

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Larrieu: To Paint or Make Love

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When a comedy's strongest scene takes place when the screen is entirely blacked out despite being shot in a luscious valley near the Alps, it's a sign that the film contains glaring weaknesses. Even more when Demis Roussos' rendition of "Nature Boy"suddenly blares out "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return," and causes the audience to titter uncomfortably (I was shaking my head in disbelief thinking "What the Hell is THIS for?").

Attending a morning press screening of Peindre Ou Faire L'Amour (To Paint or Make Love) in the Grand Theatre Lumiére, I began wondering just what criteria the Cannes Film Festival uses to select competition films. This lightweight French pastry can now forever tout itself as a Palm d'Or nominee when far more worthy candidates never see the red carpeted entrance of the Palais des Festival. Judging from director Jean-Marie Larrieu's pretentious press conference comments, there's a good chance that the selection committee relied on the Larrieu brothers' track record and promotional statements, thinking that the silly film contained more substance:

To Paint or Make Love is an ironic proposal for the future, reflecting the choices that face our two main characters. The idea was to ask: what's left, once your professional career is over? We also wanted to show that amazing things can happen to ordinary people. These characters, who are confronting great questions like Love, Desire, Sex, or Art, are not hero types. They're from the French provincial petty bourgeoisie. But they experience powerful and thrilling moments.
Not that the film doesn't possess some charm; its locations and cinematography are often as sensual as the dialog's frequent poetic musings. France may even want to consider using excerpts to promote tourism to its southeastern region. Unable to shoot in the Pyrénees, the filmmakers began shooting in the beautiful Rhône-Alps region and located a perfect house that will fill all viewers with longing; it really is an ideal sanctuary for the retired—a virtual "Garden of Eden." As Jean-Marie explains, the "landscapes are bodies. The intimacy of a landscape is related to the nude."

The major problem lies with the overall vision of the project, and the directors' heavy handed manner of clobbering the audience with their message, along the lines of American hack directors Oliver Stone and Ron Howard. Afraid that their audience wouldn't understand the feelings of their major characters, they disrupt the narrative with overly loud Jacques Brel and Demis Roussos songs with overt lyrical messages, and deliberately force elementary symbolism by naming their supporting cast Adam (Sergi Lopez) and Eva (Amira Casar).

After directing unknown actors in two previous projects (Fin d'Eté and Un Homme, un Vrai), brothers Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu teamed two of France's most prominent acting talents in the leading roles, casting Daniel Auteuil (known to American audiences primarily through The Closet) as William and Sabine Azéma as Madeleine. The actors hit their marks fine, and even subtle poignancy surfaces when Auteuil ponders his future in the face of early retirement—there has to be more meaning to Life than meeting longtime friends for rounds of golf.

William has led a routine life in the French weather service while his wife Madeleine refurbishes homes, and their grown daughter prepares to leave for Rome, leaving them to themselves. To relax, Madeleine paints landscapes as a hobby, but this is primarily an excuse to get out in the countryside and breathe the fresh air. One morning a blind man named Adam smells her oils from afar and introduces himself as the village mayor, offering to show her a nearby house. It's for sale, and Madeleine falls in love at first sight, soon convincing her husband to purchase the villa and begin anew with fresh vistas, aromas, and outlooks.

Before long, William and Madeleine become inseparable from their new friends (Adam and Eva), and begin a new lifestyle radically different from their former staid urban ways.

There's a few "surprises" along the way, so I'll avoid spoiling those. The narrative unfolds in straightforward fashion and isn't the most unpleasant film you'll run across, but Peindre Ou Faire L'Amour plays less well afterwards when realizing that the acting talent and sensual cinematography really promised a bigger punch, and that the directors have treated you like an elementary school pupil, assuming that you have virtually no visual literacy.
 


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