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Berlin - February 2000

     Here’s a brief tale of an interesting also-ran in Competition at the year 2000 Berlin Film Festival. Laetitia Masson’s Love Me suffered from an excess of directorial ambition by one of France’s most important young filmmakers, as the brilliantly talented Masson’s reach went far far beyond most of the audience’s grasp.

     I can’t claim to love all the film, some of which is painfully mannered, though the ending was by far the most moving and romantic of any work I saw at Berlin. I certainly appreciated Masson’s effort.

     About Love Me (there is no French title, it’s the name of an Elvis song): Masson features her wonderful perennial lead actress, Sandrine Kimberlaine (En avoir (ou pas),A vendre), this time as a forlorn, very lost young woman, Gabrielle Rose.

     Skinny with a pink boa wound around her neck, Gabrielle can’t move beyond her obsession for a has-been lounge singer (a wizened, weathered, wolfine Johnny Hallyday) whose repertoire consists of slowed-down gravel-voiced renditions of Presley cover tunes. Gabrielle is also deeply arrested in her tracks by her unhappy, orphaned childhood, when she seemingly was abandoned by her mother.

     What sounds like a relatively simple story is made compound complex by Masson’s handling of the material. Love Me is shot as an expressionistic mind trip, in which the heroine appears to float through time, meeting up with ghosts of her mother and her adolescent self, becoming at times her childhood self, being followed by a baldheaded gent who shoots people dead with a revolver but who, at other moments, metamorphoses into the young woman’s caring psychiatrist. Shades of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

     The heroine also soars randomly through space: sometimes she’s in France, sometimes she’s in the USA, in New York or Memphis, though both of those locales are so fuzzy and unspecific they could also be in a Europe she never left. She thinks she’s in Memphis. Ditto the ending in a Chinese restaurant, supposedly in Asia. Is it only an Asia-of-the-psyche?

     Confusing, confusing, and it’s all on purpose. "If you don’t understand, it’s only normal," Masson has written in an extended program note. "If you’re lost, it’s fine. Go with it, go with the flow. Let emotion be your guide. You are being taken inside the character’s head. Admittedly, inside her head, things are not always simple or straightforward. But are things any better in your head? The idea is to follow the character. Not the story. The story comes together at the end. Or after the end. One day, one night, in bed or at the’ll understand...or you won’t...And either way you’ll understand what you want to understand. Based on your own history and sensations. If it’s a different film for each spectator, so much the better."

     Is Masson being coy? Is she being sadistic? Fashionably postmodernist? Certainly the audience at Berlin thought the worst, clearly annoyed and frustrated at having to wade through Love Me and not knowing what was going on. Masson’s challenge to enjoy being lost in her protagonist’s head was unappreciated, or regarded as brash self-indulgence.

     Being John Malkovich? OK. Being Gabrielle Rose? Not OK.

     At the Berlin press conference following the screening, a journalist tried to get Masson to explain her story. "The story? It’s in the film," Masson answered. "I wouldn’t subject you to retelling it." She reiterated what she had said in her program note: "I wanted to put the viewer in the same position as the character, in a state of vertigo, as she can’t undertand her life. It’s true that we didn’t shoot in the USA, and it doesn’t matter, and maybe we lose people at times. That’s part of the point. You can make something true out of something false, or vice-versa. That’s the essence of cinema."

     Masson did answer on question in a straight manner. Why was Johnny Hallyday’s rock’n’roller named Lennox? "It’s a reference to a character from Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye named Terry Lennox. A chance to do an homage."

(from FIPRESCI, the worldwide organisation of film critics, February, 2000)


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