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Friday, September 10, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Moira Macdonald
Nastiness, in a movie, is not necessarily a bad thing; some perfectly delightful movies have been made about the sort of person one might call a nasty piece of work. But there's a pitfall to this type of subject matter, and the French black comedy "Love Me If You Dare" slides right into it: Movie characters don't have to be nice, but they do need to be interesting. Nastiness without intrigue translates, in whatever language, to "annoying."
But while "Love Me If You Dare" does sometimes feel like being trapped at a very colorful cocktail party with a pair of self-obsessed bores, writer/director Yann Samuell has an eye for dazzling screen images and a nice ear for offbeat dialogue. "What do you want to be when you grow up?" little Sophie asks her playmate Julien. "A tyrant," the tot replies.
Told in three parts ("game," "set," "match"), "Love Me" follows Sophie (played first by little Josephine Lebas-Jolly, then as a young woman by Marion Cotillard) and Julien (Thibault Verhaeghe, followed by Guillaume Canet) through several decades of their friendship. It's an odd and mildly creepy relationship, as they continually must prove their devotion to each other by responding to increasingly risky and bizarre dares, signified by the handing-off of a carousel-painted tin box. (Perhaps American kids would do this by handing off their PlayStations. But this film is unmistakably French and, just to be sure we get that point, Samuell has "La Vie En Rose" playing endlessly in the background, its sentiment becoming a counterpoint to the nasty goings-on on screen.)
Fairly quickly, it's clear that we're watching the oldest story in the book: These two friends are in love with each other, but can't say it. As the years go by and the dares veer into the area of psychological torture, we get increasingly frustrated with Sophie and Julien, who seem less like lovesick youths and more like sickos. But Samuell keeps things visually lively, occasionally veering into rococo animation or zooming camera tricks and drenching the film in candy-box colors (visually, "Love Me" resembles "Amélie," but with little of that film's heart).
And Canet and Cotillard, both dark-eyed beauties, are talented performers worth keeping an eye on, even as this film's writing deserts them. Cotillard has a lovely little moment mid-film, as Sophie, in a quiet library, has finally confessed her affection to a studious Julien only to find, as he looks up, that she's professed love to somebody else entirely. Her big eyes wide with horror, she says "Merci!" in a clipped, breathy little voice before skedaddling; it's a perfect bonbon of comic timing. There are treats to be found in "Love Me If You Dare," if you're willing to look for them.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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