If Christophe Honoré is the voice of the new French cinema, then France may as well call it a day and just stop making movies altogether. I know I've already complained about him ad nauseum after Dans Paris, but his latest film, La Belle Personne, was just too awful to ignore. I can't believe I waited four months for the English subtitles to appear online.
If you're wondering why I bothered watching yet another Honoré movie, I can honestly say I'm not so sure myself. For some reason, I thought that since Love Songs wasn't horrible (original review) and showed some promise that was absent in Ma Mère and Dans Paris, maybe his next one would be even better. I really should have known better. Honoré has a keen knack for suckering me in with either an interesting premise or fantastic A-List cast and then make my life hell with a hellish movie. He got me this time with the 1-2 punch of Louis Garrel and Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet. Unfortunately, there's no making out between the two of them in this one and that's only the beginning of the disappointments with La Belle Personne.
The film starts off with a bang, oddly enough, which only furthers the disappointment later on. The young students who dominate La Belle Personne are all introduced in this heavily understated opening taking place in their English classroom. They're supposed to be listening to some inane conversation in English on a cassette tape; instead, however, the camera follows their gazes between each other, sometimes reciprocated but often times not. I found it an interesting and thrifty way to set up relationships between the main characters--what could have been a lengthy introduction spread over multiple scenes or, heaven forbid, done with a voiceover, is instead captured in a minute or two without a word between any of them. Better still, Honoré's annoying Nouvelle Vague tendencies are completely extricated. Gone are the annoyingly random jump cuts that distract from more than they add to the scene. In my head, I was already doing cartwheels in celebration: Honoré had finally reined it in!
The rest of the film, unfortunately, doesn't live up to the standards of the opening. La Belle Personne revolves around Junie (Léa Seydoux), a blankly mysterious girl whom the main characters Otto (Leprince-Ringuet) and Nemours (Garrel) both fall hard for. She's the sort of character that stares blankly off in the distance whenever someone asks about her mysterious past and we're supposed to interpret that silence as an in-depth analysis of everything we could ever understand about her. In case you didn't catch my sarcasm, I can't stand and don't entirely understand films that use this as a plot device. I don't find it interesting in the slightest and actually find the whole thing desperately shallow. Some people may find deep reservations of feelings and a whole backstory hidden in that gaze; I just see emptiness. La Belle Personne falls into the same trap. The whole movie is so nicely photographed and nicely edited that it all becomes boring after awhile. I can only take so many scenes of people staring at each other or confronting someone about why they're not sharing their emotions with them. By the end of the movie, this tedium gets to the point where I was wishing for Honoré's crazy jump cuts. And you know that's never a good sign. D