Whenever in Chicago, your scribe enjoys a visit to the Field Museum. There's plenty to see, including a large selection of stuffed animals, beautiful but dead.
Beautiful but dead. That's the only way to describe this film by Manuel Pradal. If Jean-Jacques Beineix resurrected the French New Wave, Pradal has stuffed it and mounted it on the screen. The film has a stunning look, but there's no life to the pretty pictures.
Marie Baie des Anges takes us to the French Riviera where a pack of lawless kiddies do their thing. By day, they swim in the shadow of a rock formation allegedly imbued with the spirits of star-crossed lovers. By night, they get drunk and run around. The most sanguine of the lot is Orso (Frederic Malgras), a poker-faced tough who dresses like a runway model. He catches the eye of Marie (Vahina Giocante), a 15-year old temptress rife with ennui and corrosive carnality. Orso doesn't take her bait and she is left to romp around with a pack of cartoon American sailors, one of whom seems to have escaped a Gene Kelly movie. Pradal is shameless indeed.
Eventually, our two nihilists hook up and retreat to a remote island where they explore their idyllic, albeit tempestuous love. By now, the film has lost whatever hypnotic quality it had in the early going.
Pradal, riffing on Godard, loves his jump cuts and they are highly effective as we try to get our bearings in the sun-splashed hell of the young monsters. Cinematographer Christophe Pollock is an absolute wizard with the camera. You'd be proud to hang any of the frames from Orso's exhilarating train trips high above the sparkling blue water of the Mediterranean. But the film never settles down into a coherent plot with fully developed characters and the high gloss aesthetic quickly becomes an empty stylistic ruse. Form can play the beard for a lack of substance for only so long.
At the same time, despite all the publicity about the film's erotic nature, there's very little heat between the leads. Giocante looks good, but she couldn't act her way out of a Chanel bag. Malgras comes across as a comatose young Richard Gere. Together, they seem more ready for a nap than a shag. Invariably, a gun is produced to try to kick some life into the proceedings and Pradal ratchets up his crazy jump-cutting to prepare us for the climax.
Overall, this is a film with potential squandered on the altars of pastiche and laziness. It's simply not good enough to give us clichés of '50s Americana and Godard dressed up in an arty '90s gloss. Then again, we've been singing the same song ever since Breathless, haven't we?
More plot and less posing, please.
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