There are critically acclaimed French films that receive U.S. distribution because they are distinctive works of art, featuring great actors and fine directors. And then there’s “Four Lovers.”
This one has sex and nudity. Also lots of sex. Did I mention nudity?
And why not? The sex angle has worked for getting French movies distributed stateside since at least the 1950s, and clearly it did the trick here.
The movie’s about a partner-swapping situation, which gives it a vaguely 1970s feel, even though it’s set in a blandly-shot present day.
It all happens quickly: Jewelry-maker Rachel (Marina Fois) meets a web designer, Vincent (Nicolas Duvauchelle), through work. Nothing wrong in inviting him over for dinner; he’ll bring his wife, Teri (Elodie Bouchez, from “The Dreamlife of Angels”), and Rachel and her husband, Franck (Roschdy Zem, the powerful presence from “Days of Glory”), can host.
Franck is a massage therapist, I guess, which gives him an excuse to begin groping around Teri’s spine, which she evidently enjoys. Vincent doesn’t show much jealousy, because he’s gone off to see what Rachel is up to in another part of the house.
And so the couples trade partners, but only for sex; they continue their domestic arrangements (complete with kids) as before. Full disclosure is granted; nobody’s sneaking around because everybody’s all right with sharing.
Of course we assume that cracks will show before long, but in the meantime, director Antony Cordier takes opportunities to linger over his attractive actors, who prove themselves more than willing to throw themselves into the intimate scenes.
The women fare better than the men; at least they radiate some kind of inner life, while the men stalk around looking grim.
The tone is somber throughout, reminding us of how significant all this is. Unfortunately, the sober approach has the opposite effect, especially when the four lovers join together at a farmhouse and cover their bodies in flour.
Being covered in flour is an attractive look, but then they all go for a dip in a nearby pond, and all I could think about was how gummy everything was going to get.
At one point the movie stops cold so we can hear the biblical story of the prodigal son, the relevance of which must be accepted by the audience. It’s about that time things begin to unravel for the foursome.
What went wrong? Jealousy? Boredom? Too much flour in the wrong places? “Four Lovers” offers plenty of answers, but by that time I’d had enough of this way-too-precious recipe.
“Four Lovers” (1½ stars)
Two couples meet, and the partners trade off in an open-marriage sort of way, a situation that leads to many well-lit sex scenes and more than a little silliness. The actors give it their all, but this very serious affair is way too precious for its own good. In French, with English subtitles.
Rated: Not rated; probably R for nudity, subject matter.