If it's any consolation, the French don't handle their complicated love lives any better than we do. The world-renowned masters (and mistresses) of romance have been undone by the sexual revolution and its promises of love without consequences — or so one concludes from the fascinatingly weak-willed Parisians in Diane Kurys' unsentimental yet altogether charming Love After Love (Apres l'Amour).
Love After Love (a nebulous title that does the stiletto-sharp movie a crucial disservice) centers on longtime lovers Lola (the sublime Isabelle Huppert) and David (Bernard Giraudeau, who resembles Christopher Walken with a smoldering sex drive). Although they've known each other since they were teens and have lived together for some 15 years, the upscale couple never deigned to marry. Bright, successful, and ever so adult, Lola and David don't begrudge each other their liaisons for an instant. By the same rarefied standards of etiquette, they reflexively lie and cover up those betrayals.
Love After Love suggests a contemporary, urban adaptation of Rules of the Game (a risky comparison, to be sure), another witty and jaundiced view of the convoluted carnal pursuits of the affluent. Both Jean Renoir and Kurys (Peppermint Soda, Entre Nous) are attuned to the apparently bottomless human capacity for self-deception, yet compassionate enough to limit the weaknesses of their characters to weaknesses of the flesh.
The object of Lola's desire is a sexy guitar sensation (Hippolyte Girardot) with a wife and two daughters. David, meanwhile, has had two sons with the volatile and jealous Marianne (Lio), and he's not above spending the night in her bed. Helping to stir the soup are David's brother, Romain, and Rachel, a capable but devious assistant at the brothers' architecture firm.
One of the joys of Love After Love is the absence of guilt. Refreshingly, there's no trace of existential angst either, or of Rohmer-style philosophical pillow fights. These people live their lives with an abundance of passion, the merest trace of hesitation, and, above all, no apologies. There's no such thing as bad love, and the only truth they honor — which they learned in the '60s — is to act on their feelings.
It's as if the horny, happy friends in Alain Tanner's Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 (the vibrant 1975 film about trying to maintain one's political ideals and sexual openness after the revolution) grew up to be yuppies yet kept their values. Love After Love's peripatetic characters fairly pop with the arrogance that one can have it all, the ludicrousness of which becomes apparent watching David on the telephone repeatedly making a cassoulet of his private and business lives. Kurys' lust-happy protagonists exhibit an exuberant selfishness implicit in defining freedom as the ability to have all they desire and never to have to make a choice. Of course, intimacy warrants responsibility. But you have to look closely, past Huppert's effortless portrait of feigned indifference and mature pragmatism. Only her diary entries and studied gazes reveal her true emotions.
It's no coincidence that Lola finally accepts the charade of her lifestyle during a romantic getaway with her guitar man to, of all places, Pompeii — the resort town buried under ash and immortalized as the playground of the rich and shallow. To cinch it, Kurys tosses in yet another dreamy view of Paris from Lola's penthouse garden, as if to mock its reputation as a lovers' capital. Not too shabby a backdrop for a midlife crisis, but Lola's moving on.
Love After Love opens Fri, June 16, at the Vogue in