Foreign romances bring love to the edge

. June 6, 2012.

Two new European-style films offer strange takes on passion.

The first of the two, Heartbeats, tells the story of a romantic triangle between French Canadians Marie, (Monia Chokri) a 20-something girl, her gay male friend Francis (Xavier Dolan) and the object of their affection, the Adonis-like Nicholas (Niels Schneider).

They have one big problem. Nicholas doesn’t want either of them, except as friends. Though they could be excused for their confusion, since Nicholas’ “friendship,” is more than a little romantically teasing. There’s lots of kissing and hugging and asexual times together in bed.  When the tension between Marie and Francis gets physical and they end up wrestling on the ground a la Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, Nicholas stands back and smiles.

Of course their desire for the pretty but boring Nicholas doesn’t stop either of his admirers from enjoying other mindless sexual encounters.

Oddly enough, the primary “love affair,” seems to be between the two rivals. They seem most interested in luring Nicholas away from the other, with Nicholas nothing more than an amusing prize for the winner. The ending leaves no doubt that the competition will continue in the future.

If you enjoy shallow love stories engaged in by people you don’t care about, “Heartbeats,” is your film.

Certified Copy is the more bizarre of the two movies. After watching it twice, I still wasn’t sure what had just happened.

Unhappy single mom Elle (Juliette Binoche) attends a lecture in Tuscany by British author James Miller (William Shimell).  Elle, an art gallery owner, at first appears to be a total stranger to Miller. She’s not even an admirer of his book about how copies of art works have the same value as the originals.

Apparently, Miller extends his theory to “real” emotions and life experiences.

The pair ends up together for a morning excursion in a small village before James has to head back home by train. They pass the time together in a local trattoria.

When James steps outside to take a phone call, the proprietor talks to Elle about love, men and marriage, after mistaking the couple for husband and wife. Elle plays along.

The apparent fantasy doesn’t stop when James returns.James and Elle (French for “she”) end up pretending they are husband and wife, complete with raging arguments about events that never happened, resentments related to emotions that don’t exist and memories of unlived tender moments. Or were they only in the couple’s imagination? We’re never really sure.

The whole thing is rather ridiculous. Certified Copy seems more of an excuse for a pretentious improvisational acting exercise between Binoche and Shimell based on the director’s “deep thoughts.”

This is the kind of movie that draws cries of “masterpiece” from critics and yawns and puzzled looks from audiences. If you enjoy extended boring discussions about art, marriage and reality you’ll love Certified Copy.

Heartbeats is in French with subtitles and Certified Copy is in French, English and Italian, also with subtitles.

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