CineFranco Film Review: Peindre ou faire l’amour (To paint or make love)

Cinefranco: 10th Annual Celebration of International Francophone Cinema @ The Royal Cinema. March 23 – April 1, 2007

to_paint_or_to_make_love.jpgDespite the title’s suggestion, nobody ever makes a choice between painting and making love, though there’s certainly a lot of both, as the painting leads to making love and the thought of making love leads to painting. Advertised as a comedy, Peindre ou Faire L’amour doesn’t really become a comedy until the end, though it discusses swingers, and double-sided marital infidelity with a light-hearted wave of the hand. Seemingly happily married couple Madeleine (Sabine Azéma) and William (Daniel Auteuil) have their banal bourgeois lives shaken up by a couple in the country: a blind man, Adam, and as she calls herself, his invisible wife, Eva.

Read on for the entire review.

Recently retired William and his wife Madeleine are a middle-aged couple, who go through the motions of the “happily-married-couple”, yet they both seem to be clinging on to constant but passionless caresses; they’re always touching, but it’s more a result of conditioning than spur-of-the-moment passion. And they aren’t unhappy, they are in love, but they are both a little bored with their lives. The thought of all the free time now available to him frightens William; Madeleine seems a bit free-spirited but world-wearied. Their daughter is all grown up, she lives in Rome, and they speak of her as they would a good friend that they don’t speak to much anymore. When they go to visit their new-country-house-to-be, they ‘make love’ on the spur of the moment, but afterwards, they seem to return to their usual habitual interactions, as though this were some small blip in an otherwise bland world.

When they meet the aptly named Adam and Eva they seem to rediscover sex. William and Madeleine, bored and wearied, are intrigued by Adam’s blind sight, and they sometimes like to pretend they are blind, too. Adam and Madeleine are attracted to each other from the start, and he manages to always have her “guide him” by putting his hand on her shoulder as she leads the way. Eva, the invisible wife, longs for someone to see her; she asks Madeleine to paint her portrait. Eva decides to pose nude, in a scene that suggests there is an impending relationship between them, but it doesn’t immediately lead anywhere, a directorial choice of remarkable and excellent restraint that is perfectly fitting.

It’s clear from the start where the flirtation or subtle hints are leading, but the film’s treatment of these interactions is not quite what we, a North-American audience, are accustomed to. As the couples intermix, they do so very casually, quite like Catherine’s relationship with her two men in Jules and Jim: Catherine sleeps with one of them, and then walks to the room next door to return to the arms of the other man, going between them as she pleases. And that’s exactly what it’s like in Peindre ou Faire Amour once Adam and Eva’s house burns down and they move in with William and Madeleine. There are no secrets or lies kept between any of the characters, no “Sex, Lies, and Videotape”. In fact, the intermixing seems to strengthen the bonds and passion between the married partners. In one scene, William and Madeleine experience renewed passion because of their sexual encounters with the “original sinners”, yet they seem desperate, feeling as though they were duped and manipulated by the other couple; they vow to keep away from Adam and Eva. Yet as soon as they speak to the couple once more, they are both excited for their next encounter with them, completely sans jealousy.

Only the French could deal with such sexual encounters as though they were completely benign and just “good fun”. We leave the theatre believing that they really were just that. Writer-directors Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu keep just the right balance of showing the inherent loneliness and vulnerability that these characters experience even as they all enjoy themselves. And so, Peindre ou Faire L’amour isn’t really a shocking film; it’s no Y Tu Mama Tambien. It’s tasteful, but not particularly erotic; the characters manage to find some form of happiness through harmless sexual play. One simply wonders why these intelligent people don’t become bored despite their new antics; they don’t seem to face much stimulation of the intellectual variety.

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Cinefranco is the first of several spring film festivals in Toronto including HotDocs, and the Images Festival. Cinefranco, a celebration of francophone cinema, kicked off the season on March 23rd at the Royal Cinema. The festival screens French films, all with English subtitles, from France, Canada, Belgium, and even Algeria, to name a few. Some of the films are still running the festival circuit – Marock, which showed on Sunday, April 1st, was at the Toronto International Film Festival – and some of them feature french film stars like Daniel Auteuil (Cache, To Paint or Make Love) , Emannuelle Beart (8 Femmes, Mission Impossible, The Art of Breaking Up) and Jamel Debbouze (Amelie, Angel-A). Cinefranco also showcases films with lesser known actors and directors, that won’t necessarily get a theatrical release, but are often just as worthy of a viewing.

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