Film reviews

Manchester Film Festival: Love is Dead

In the modern world, relationship break-ups are established by Twitter DMs, Facebook messages or even snaps on Snapchat, but what if there could be a way how a third party could organise the break-up – with official documents too? You have Love is Dead.

Love is Dead is a 2016 French comedy adapted from the 2007 French short film of the same name and directed by the same director, Éric Capitaine. Despite a slightly confusing opening, Love is Dead first presents its protagonist, Mathias (C’est la vie!’s Benjamin Lavernhe), as a silky smooth, confident, bike-riding, business opportunist. When things begin to make sense, we see that Mathias is solely running a sort of backstreet organisation dealing with relationship break-ups – the organisation is deadly serious to the point where they place clients in safe houses, hidden away from the individual they’re breaking up from.

During the first “Love Is Dead” assignment in Love is Dead, the secretary or assistant of an individual facing a break-up is fired from her job because she found it funny – she is Juliette (Crime Parfaits’ Elisa Ruschke) and in the next story event, she manages to find the hard-to-find office of “Love Is Dead” and home of Mathias, and manages to convince him to give her the opportunity of working for “Love Is Dead” as an assistant or secretary as such.

After a series of assignments – both successful and unsuccessful – an obvious chemistry has developed between Mathias and Juliette, though the former establishes a likening for a marriage counsellor, Léane (Caché’s Aïssa Maïga). Ironically, marriage counsellors are the enemy of “Love Is Dead” – both in a business sense and ideological sense too. Ideological because Mathias believes that love should be handled in a certain way and if a relationship is in sufferance, then in respect of love, should be ended rather than desperately attended to by a marriage counsellor.

Love is Dead’s seriousness is legitimised and Mathias’ character development takes a turn for the worst when his mother, Eliane (Overseas’ Brigitte Roüan), wishes to order a “Love Is Dead” package to separate from her husband, Mathias’ father, Yvon (Omnibus’ Sam Karmann). As he wishes for his parents to remain together, Mathias, ironically, seeks out advice from a marriage counsellor – the enemy – thus the genesis of Mathias’ brief love interest. Mathias is now loved-up in enemy territory whilst deciding, regarding his parents, to betray his morals on love or live by his morals on love. Mathias is, essentially, the architect of his downfall.

Benjamin Lavernhe’s performance as Mathias is tremendous and believable, both as a comedic character and serious character. When Mathias is witty with Juliette, the performance and chemistry is believable and fun, whereas when Mathias is of a serious tone when conducting his “Love Is Dead” assignments, he is again believable and a joy to watch, but when his parents become involved and things are not so rosy, the audience is sympathetic to both Mathias and Yvon, and feels guilt in watching a genuinely nice individual having to split up his parents – this is when the tone is quite serious and there is an aura of legitimisation.

Like Lavernhe as Mathias, Sam Karmann projects unbelievable amounts of believability into his Yvon. The later scene presenting the realisation of his partner wanting to split conveys so much emotion, that the audience is feeling Yvon’s heartbreak, but also his confusion and anger.

Juliette only has good intentions. Because of the obvious chemistry with Mathias, audiences are hoping for them to get together – Elisa Ruschke’s quirky and genuinely fun-to-view performance influences much of this audience desire. It is amazing how, after only a little while with “Love Is Dead”, Juliette seems to be more committed to the project than Mathias himself, starting with making his office/apartment looking more respectable. There is, again, sympathy with another character: to stay in the job, Juliette has no choice but to sleaze with a man to initiate an assignment; share her home with a complete stranger, organised by Mathias; and watch Mathias suffer from his parents’ inevitable separation.

The hidden gem, however, is with the comic relief within a comedy… the “first official subscriber” of “Love Is Dead”: Julian (Le tour du Bagel’s Jérôme Niel). Julian’s subscription entails affairs with air hostesses to be called off, for example. Essentially, Julian is overly sleazy, but to the point of which it is hilarious and not actually creepy. Imagine a young Ron Jeremy dressed in the clothes of Ace Venture – that is Julian.

Disregarding the confusing opening and a semi-dislikeable ending, Éric Capitaine’s pacing, storytelling and transitioning of jokey-to-seriousness in Love is Dead is utterly terrific and very much alive. During Love is Dead’s post-premiere Q&A, Capitaine expressed his concerns over the subtitling of Love is Dead, as the subtitles failed to translate some phrases and references to French culture – the lack of complete subtitling was noted by an audience member during the Q&A also.

Ultimately, Love is Dead feels somewhat outside of the box and ahead of its time, though the concept was first on screens in short form back in 2007. Easily the best comedy of Manchester Film Festival, if one finds an opportunity to watch Love is Dead, and then one must do so, but maybe not with their significant other…

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