The Wild, Wild Fest, Part 2

Benoit (Yvan Attal) is 33, single, disciplined, dependable, but also what many might describe as dull. No matter how wild your own youth may have been, Benoit is no doubt the suitor you want for your daughter. He will provide for her decently (he works in a bank), and so what if he's something less than deliriously romantic? So what if she says she doesn't "love" him? At her tender age she can't be expected to understand that love means taking good care of someone for life.

Or does it? Benoit longs for companionship, as we know from his many conversations with best friend and roommate Pierre (Charles Berling) at the start of the film. Pierre seems to be everything the hero is not: handsome, charming, a little off-center and unpredictable, Dionysus to Benoit's Apollo. In an effort to be more like his friend, Apollo looks through the "Personals" and decides to answer an ad. Enter Marie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who, though a novice at blind-dating, has a long history of unsatisfying sexual encounters. Benoit, shy about his inadequacies in the romance department, treats her with proper respect and makes no advances, which intrigues her. Perhaps all men are not alike, after all, and she can be happy with this "different" boyfriend.

In his own good time Benoit becomes a very gentle, sensitive sexual partner, but Marie has of course met Pierre, who reawakens her longing for a more dangerous affair. At this point Love, Etc. shows the unmistakable influence of the 1961 Truffaut masterpiece Jules and Jim. Against a background of quirky music reminiscent of the jaunty tunes in the earlier work, Vernoux conjures up a rolling collage of vignettes as the three-way friendship deepens and the influence of unrestrained Pierre begins to change the proper Benoit.

In Truffaut's film it is the woman (played by the incomparable Jeanne Moreau) who devastates the two friends with her passion for living and her total amorality. The plot of Love, Etc. follows a more conventional course. Marie and Benoit are married, and so the conflict becomes that of temptation versus fidelity.

The denouement in Jules and Jim has Moreau committing suicide and taking Jim with her, after having deceived the steady and reliable Jules. Life in Love, Etc. is a bit more complicated than that. People tend to stay alive, and they must settle for what they get, cope with their problems as best they can. Perhaps that acceptance of how people are, and the ability to forgive, may form a big part of how we will eventually define that strange word love.

While it's a far cry from Courting Courtney, by no means is Love, Etc. another Jules and Jim. The opening scenes are frenetic and confusing, with dialogue so mumbled and confusing that we think we're in for a French version of a Spielberg film. Then the film slows to what would be a stagelike pace were it not for the fact that few scenes are ever really finished. Vernoux evades climaxes by cutting to another situation in another place -- it's almost as if she were ashamed of telling a conventional story. But ultimately this is a conventional story. That in itself is nothing to be ashamed of, if a film is about something important and the characters are believable.

Though I have been somewhat critical of the "festmania" that accompanies what we should nonetheless applaud -- the showing of new films we might otherwise never see -- I experienced a poignant sense of desolation the other night at the Cosford Cinema. In an understated manner that is appropriate for an academic movie house, the Cosford does without the hoopla of other venues, relying mainly on the good taste of its patrons to sell tickets. At the screening of the Chilean film Historias de Futbol, I counted ten people in the audience, including myself. No one had ever heard of this film, of course, and the only publicity was a simple listing of the schedule for the Cosford's part of the festival. It was then that I thought: "Maybe a klieg light or two would have helped. Where is Mary Hart when you need her?"

The film itself is hardly a festival showpiece, but it still beats I Know What You Did Last Summer any day. Beautifully photographed against the moody landscapes of Chile and carefully directed by 32-year-old Andres Wood, Futbol comprises three short (one-act) films about what the South American passion for soccer does to players and spectators alike.

In the first segment, a star player is offered a sizable bribe to throw an important game. Though his life is in danger, he would ultimately prefer death to dishonor. The second (and weakest) of the three sections revolves around an endless game being played by young boys in a remote, treeless region that offers little else to live for. The third (and strongest) piece concerns a young man forced to spend the night with two middle-aged (and frustrated women when their tiny ferryboat breaks down. On the same night, Chile is playing in a decisive World Cup game, but there's only one television on the island, and it's on the fritz. The hero risks his life during a horrendous storm to fix the rooftop antenna. So earnest is he, so passionate is his need for the game, that we cannot help rooting for him. Yes, there is an ironic twist Thomas Hardy himself would have commended, but I'll let you discover it for yourself.

The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival continues through November 16. Tickets for all regular showings are $7 (closing-night screenings, as well as IMAX films, cost a little more). For a complete schedule of festival events, please see the special "Calendar Listings" section beginning on page 39 or call 954-564-7373.

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