The translation of foreign film titles to English can be a subject of some query and this French film from director Emmanuel Mouret is no exception. Its French title is Les Choses qu’on dit, les choses qu’on fait, which translates almost perfectly as Things We Say, Things We Do. While the chosen title of Love Affair(s) is short and neat, it goes nowhere near to giving any hint of the thoughtful, philosophical affair that this film turns out to be.
Set in the southern area of Vaucluse and in Paris, the film shows the interconnected lives of several people whose overlapping stories are revealed like a gentle and intriguing game of pass the parcel over its two hour running time. Opening with the meeting of Daphne, superbly played by Camélia Jordana who starred in the 2017 film, le Brio, and the anxious, sensitive and permanently sad Maxime (Niels Schneider), the cousin of her fiancé Francois, who is made to look like a latter day Émile Zola, in Vincent Macaigne. Daphne is in the early stages of pregnancy and Maxime is a heartbroken, hopeful writer. Over their time together in the countryside they become close, sharing secrets and confessions of their past lives.
Emmanuel Mouret, who is also the film’s writer, has created a remarkably gentle and very adult look at human relationships and what people decide constitutes love and a reason to settle with another person. Reflecting the philosophical thesis of René Girard in his mimetic theory with regard to human relationships, we see characters assessing dreams with the reality of what constitutes a long term relationship.
What matters most? Love? Passion? Pleasure? Companionship? Shared interests? Or, chiming with Girard’s thoughts, and in the words of Francois’ wife Louise (Emilie Dequenne), who goes to great lengths to walk that particular walk, “True love is only concerned with the other’s happiness.” Amidst the questions is the possibility of alternative lives that are either realised or dreamt but one character concludes that if there’s a choice of paths, it’s best to follow the one you find yourself on.
Claude Pommereau plays a philosopher in a film within the film, whose director is played by Lois-Do de Lencquesaing, known to fans of Spiral (Engrenages) as Eric Edelman, and is another cog in these ever moving human machinations as he innocently confesses his love of another to the person in love with him. Yet throughout, everyone is calm and adult, showing no anger or wild outbursts except in private, giving any revelations a refreshing quiet dignity and acceptance.
Brief shots of Paris, that give the viewer a vicarious visit while it is still forbidden, along with the dappled greenery of the Vaucluse countryside with its yellowing end of Summer colours that serve as a reminder that everything fades with time, give a visual backdrop that pleases the eye in this slow burn of a film that holds the very human mix of openness and secrecy. A satisfying watch on many levels
Love Affair(s) was in the Cannes 2020 Official Selection