Monday, March 09, 2015

3 Hearts: the Mister and the Two Sisters

Could you fall for a taxman? Two women from the provincial French town of Valence will do exactly that. Their similar tastes make sense, considering they happen to be sisters. Complications will necessarily ensue in Benoît Jacquot’s 3 Hearts (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Marc Beaulieu is a revenue agency bureaucrat based in Paris, but he sometimes ventures out into the field for an audit. He missed the last train home on his first fateful night in Valence—the sort of sleepy town that rolls up the streets after eleven o’clock. However, Sylvie Berger is also roaming through the shuttered nocturnal streets. She guides him to a hotel, but they spend most of the night gliding through the quiet sidewalks together. Little is said, but a connection is formed. Beaulieu leaves for Paris in the morning, but they make hasty plans to rendezvous at the Jardin des Tuileries, but a few mild hassles like a heart attack make Beaulieu prohibitively tardy.

Naturally, the two would be lovers never exchanged cell numbers or even properly introduced themselves. That would have killed the mood, which is admittedly intoxicating. We wish the film would return to that vividly in-the-moment romantic vibe, so we can understand why Beaulieu will do some truly reckless things later in the film to recapture it.

For the time being, life goes on. Berger agrees to move to Minneapolis with the underwhelming boyfriend she had just broken up with, resigning herself to a crummy relationship and cold winters. Returning to Valence on business, Beaulieu looks for Berger, but instead he finds her sister Sophie weeping in the tax office over the state of her returns. Of course, the name Berger means nothing to him. Taking pity on her, Beaulieu straightens out her bookkeeping, winning her heart as a result. Through a carefully contrived set of circumstances, he never figures out who the absent sister is until their wedding plans are well underway.

When they finally come face-to-face, it is rather awkward. Sylvie Berger tries to avoid her new brother-in-law as much as possible, but their mutual ardor is constantly at risk of boiling over. As Beaulieu becomes rasher, the threat of scandal grows. Clearly, it is all building to a bad end for several sides of the love triangle, as Bruno Coulais’s surprisingly moody and somewhat discordant score has foreshadowed right from the beginning.

3 Hearts could be considered the dark analog of films like Brief Encounter and An Affair to Remember. While the romanticism of the initial meeting is overwhelmingly potent, it leads to an obsession that becomes toxic over time. Frankly, love at first sight is not a healthy proposition in 3 Hearts.

Much will be made of Catherine Deneuve once again portraying the mother of her real life daughter Chiara Mastroianni, but Madame Berger plays a tangential role in this drama. The real show is Mastroianni and Charlotte Gainsbourg complimenting and contrasting with each other as the needy insecure Sophie and the reserved but passionate Sylvie, respectively. They are totally credible as the closest of sisters, but it is a bit harder to understand why they are both so profoundly attracted to a wheezing, walking coronary like Beaulieu. Regardless, Benoît Poelvoorde is uncomfortably compelling as the compulsive, self-destructive auditor.

While 3 Hearts sounds like a straight drama on paper, its tone approaches that of a thriller. Jacquot constantly maintains the nagging sense something dreadful might happen in the very next scene. It is tenser and more unsettling than most infidelity films, including those that venture further into violent or noir territory. Consistently effective despite, or because of its openly melodramatic inclinations, 3 Hearts is recommended for Francophiles when it opens this Friday (3/13) in New York at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema.