When a man loves a woman

New Age French romance in India in ‘Un + Une.

‘Un + Une’ (photo credit: PR)
‘Un + Une’
(photo credit: PR)
Claude Lelouch’s film Un + Une is a genial romance, with gorgeous locations and charming actors. Lelouch is a director whose films are almost always a great deal of fun. He is best known for the 1966 A Man and a Woman, the romance starring Anouk Aimee and Jean- Louis Trintignant, and dozens of other movies he has made in a career that has spanned 60 years.
Un + Une tells the story of a cynical musician, Antoine (Jean Dujardin, who won a Best Actor Oscar for The Artist) who goes to India to write the musical score for a new movie. The movie is a reworking of the Romeo and Juliet story, about a young Indian thief and dancer who fall in love, and that improbable story sets the tone for the film. On his first night in India, Antoine is invited to a dinner at the residence of the French ambassador, Samuel (Christopher Lambert). Antoine is seated next to Anna (Elsa Zylberstein), the ambassador’s wife, a bubbly young Frenchwoman dressed in Indian garb. The two flirt with each other as she talks about her spiritual connection to India, while he is most interested in finding an aspirin for one of his frequent headaches. But this headache has come on for a reason: His beautiful, talented young lover, Alice (Alice Pol), has just asked him to marry her. He has no intention of getting married, to her or anyone.
After the dinner, Antoine goes to his room in the ambassador’s residence and is surprised when Anna shows up, crying. Her husband noticed their flirtation and is furious with her. She opens up about her life, and he is disconcerted. The next day, she visits his recording session, and the two spark with each other even more, as she tells him she is leaving to see a spiritual leader who she hopes can cure her infertility. Although he claims not to believe in the New Age mishmash of spirituality and mysticism that has drawn Anna to India, he goes with her, claiming he wants the spiritual leader to cure his headaches.
That’s the basic set-up for this kind of New Age screwball dramedy. The conversations between Antoine and Anna, as she waxes lyrical over the spiritual power of India and he shoots down her flights of fancy with quips and down-to-earth objections, are at the heart of the story. They are enjoyable set pieces and have a kind of improvised quality. The two actors are stunning and playful, and as you watch them you may find yourself thinking of someone in your life you always disagree with but whom you love to talk to anyway.
The lead actors are very appealing, especially Dujardin and Zylberstein. However, there is something a bit oversold about the whole story. It reminded me of those old romantic comedies where the couple “meets cute.”
You know pretty much where it’s going. That doesn’t ruin the film, but at times it feels manipulative.
While the images of India are magnificent and vivid, it’s clear that Lelouch basically shares Anna’s starry-eyed take on the country. There’s a certain New Age travelogue feel to the film.
While that, like much of the movie, can be fun, you may catch yourself thinking of the deep poverty and hardships hidden behind the pretty colors. It’s also very much a movie version of India, in that whenever the characters want to stop for coffee, there is always a lovely cafe nearby. No one ever gets a stomach bug from the street food they eat. Lelouch also wants us to accept the idea of this great healer, who is actually played by Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (known as Amma), an actual spiritual leader called “the mother of all” by her followers, at face value, the way Anna sees her.
Reportedly, Amma knew that she would be filmed with actors when the movie was made, but the actors mingled with the crowd (a mix of locals and tourists) and she didn’t actually know who they were.
The more you love French cinema, the more you will be able to suspend your skepticism and enjoy the pleasures of Un + Une.’