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“You look like a painting,” a rich gentleman tells the heroine, Lisa, in the early stages of Nicole Garcia’s stylish, silly thriller. “I forget the name of the painting. A dark, gloomy one.” Minutes later he’s dead, laid out on the carpet while Lisa clutches her bathrobe. Whether he was killed by the purple prose in his mouth or the contaminated cocaine in his nose is best left for the coroner to decide.
In any case, the rich gentleman was not entirely right. Lisa (played with blank sullenness by the Nymphomaniac star Stacy Martin) looks like a model in a glossy magazine photo-shoot. A dark, gloomy model posed against a series of eye-catching backdrops (grungy Paris; tropical paradise) with a hackneyed plot scaffolded around her slender frame. Amants, unaccountably, is competing for the top prize here in Venice. At least if it wins the presentation pictures will be pretty.
Lisa, we learn, is in love with Simon (Pierre Niney). But Simon dealt the bad drugs that may have killed the rich gentleman and now he’s on the run, vanished from the scene like Gitanes smoke in the breeze. Several years later she sees him again, lugging surfboards for tourists at an Indian Ocean resort. Except that these days Lisa is married to Leo (Benoît Magimel), a bullish businessman who appears devoted to her. The couple are scouring the globe, scuba diving and booking Chinese massages and seeking a child to adopt, though possibly not in that order. “We’ll have a black kid, why not?” Leo says with a shrug.
Almost every flawed film contains at least one potent scene and so it is with Garcia’s Amants. Back home in wintry Geneva, the unwitting Leo installs Simon as his chauffeur and the pair set out on a work trip to Zurich and back. On the return leg, through the night, Leo drinks Japanese whisky and talks about his life and his work and his miserable wife, while Simon grips the wheel and stares straight ahead, wanting to kill his employer and wondering whether he might dare. It’s a tremendous little sequence: tense, funny and truthful in a way the rest of the film never is.
In fact, if Amants possesses anything approximating a heart, it’s provided by Magimel. His performance almost (but not quite) manages to transcend the material. He beefs Leo into a rounded, nuanced character – a man who’s coarse and ruthless and yet seems fundamentally decent behind the alpha-male bluster. The trouble is that the film keeps misidentifying its real source of interest. It sticks like a limpet to the tale of its moody, vapid lovers and moves to undermine Leo every chance it gets.
Back at their palatial retreat in Geneva, the unhappily married couple are still looking to adopt. “The agency called,” Leo says. “They found a child with a deformed foot. I refused.” This line is there to remind us what a lifestyle-conscious louse Lisa’s husband really is. But it rings hollow and feels compromised, given the state of the film that surrounds it. Amants has its moments, but it is preening, shallow and impossibly pleased with itself. I think it would struggle to take such a child in, too.
Source: The Guardian
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