Yes, he catches hell from Cahiers du cinéma critics and many others for his sometimes melodramatic and nearly always sentimental films. And he no longer gets the worldwide distribution he once did.
But still — 57 times! (This includes all his films not just the 44 features.)
Added bonus: “We Love You” stars aging French rockers Johnny Hallyday and Eddy Mitchell alongside a cast of beautiful supporting actresses, including the great and still lovely Sandrine Bonnaire.
The 76-year-old Lelouch, best known in the U.S. for “A Man and a Woman” (1966) — which ran for an entire year in one L.A. cinema — has made a kind of valedictory film here. (This despite the fact he has a new one already in development.)
While Lelouch establishes a wonderful mood and atmosphere with the smooth skill of a veteran filmmaker, but quickly loses track of his story. He also indulges in a third act that veers into a completely different film as if the projectionist mixed up the reels.
In an opening sequence in the dead of winter, set to a duet by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, the film observes famed war photojournalist Jacques Kaminski (Hallyday) and his latest wife, Bianca (Agnes Soral), looking at and instantly buying a lavish, secluded Alpine chalet. (It also imagines that journalists make salaries the equivalent of rock stars.)
Sick of wars, Jacques is looking to settle down in peaceful retirement. However, a note of connubial instability comes from his explanation to real estate broker and widow Nathalie (Bonnaire) that when it comes to marriage, “one is faithful as long as one can’t find someone better.”
On that note, cut to summer. Wife #4 is long gone, boxes of vintage cameras are newly arrived and Nathalie and her two children are now cheerfully living with Jacques in his new abode. Alors!
His best buddy and personal physician, Frédéric (Mitchell), and family then drop by. Realizing his old pal’s melancholia stems from the absence of his four daughters, each by a different wife, Frédéric summons them by claiming their dad is fatally ill.
The veracity of this claim wavers during the entire movie. Is Jacques truly ill or is this subterfuge or is he ill but no one is aware of it other than the filmmakers? Whatever the case, Jacques looks and acts like a hale and hearty man despite incessant smoking.
The alarm works though: All four daughters drop very busy lives to rush to the Alps for a fond farewell to a man none of them thinks of fondly. These are the cheekily named sisters Spring (Irene Jacob of “Three Colors: Red”), Summer (Pauline Lefèvre), Autumn (Sarah Kazemy) and Winter (Jenna Thiam).
The scenario, co-written by Lelouch and his wife Valérie Perrin, picks up steam with multiple reunions, family feasts and frolics, tears and recriminations, then accusations and apologies amid plenty of wine and gastronomic excess.
Sitting in the audience you reflexively reach out with an imaginary glass to share in these bucolic feasts. The grandeur of the setting (captured by DP Robert Alazraki shooting through windows, doors and multi-layered reflections to frame the action) adds to the experience.
But you do wonder when the main course will get served. It’s not that anything really goes wrong here dramatically. It’s that nothing ever goes right.
The film gets caught up in repetitive and increasingly incredulous greetings by dad with errant offspring and the passing of wine bottles. With such a growing cast, you never get to know each individual daughter well nor do you grasp the full force of their complaints with dad other than his prolonged absence covering war zones.
Thus, characters get introduced and themes stated but the promised drama drifts off with the smoke of Jacques’ many cigars and cigarettes and the aromas of picnics and dinners.
Maybe it’s all an inside joke. Maybe with a wink and a nod, Lelouch, who has seven children from four wives, is (in collaboration with his current wife) musing on his past as he works for the first time with Hallyday, who himself has had five marriages.
One moment for the ages does occur deep in the film, before the troubling third act begins. While watching an old, dubbed American movie on TV, Hallyday and Mitchell sing along to the famous Dean Martin-Ricky Nelson ballad from “Rio Bravo.” Classic!
Indeed you may want to walk out at this point. While dropping hints of a sharp turn of events by introducing a gun at one point and darker themes involving hunters on Jacques’s estate and a pet eagle that swoops majestically around the festive gatherings, Lelouch never really smoothes the way for the extreme right turn his movie takes.
Rather than resolve or come to terms with the many issues between this father and his daughters — or perhaps this man and his erratic relationship with women in general — the movie dives into a genre mishmash.
The third act is more a Gallic Agatha Christie than a Lelouch film. It throws out the story and its themes in favor of really nothing. Nothing very interesting at least.
One can only shrug. The teaming of Hallyday and Mitchell was worth it. Ditto that the teaming of Hallyday and Bonnaire. And the country scenery and so many breath-taking females of all ages and that amazing eagle and … oh well, pass the wine. After all, another Lelouch film is on its way.
The film, which opened April 2 in France, was the opening night film (with Lelouch and Hallyday in attendance) at this week’s ColCoa in L.A.
Venue: City of Lights/City of Angels
Production companies: Les Films 13, Rhone-Alpes Cinema
Cast: Johnny Hallyday, Sandrine Bonnaire, Eddy Mitchell, Irene Jacob, Pauline Lefèvre, Sarah Kazemy, Jenna Thiam
Director: Claude Lelouch
Screenwriters: Claude Lelouch, Valerie Perrin
Executive producer: Jean-Paul de Vidas
Director of photography: Robert Alazraki
Costume designer: Christel Birot
Editor: Stephane Mazalaigue
Music: Francis Lai, Christian Gaubert
Sales agent: Les Films 13
No rating, 123 minutes