There are a few things you have to set aside if you’re going to enjoy French director Yann Samuell’s Love Me If You Dare. Although the film deals with the sometimes all-too-real gamesmanship played out between friends, lovers and family, it is best appreciated as a psychedelic fairy tale. It’s hard to imagine anyone withstanding the psychological and physical torment that Julien (Guillaume Canet) and Sophie (Marion Cotillard) heap upon each other. So, if you allow your analytical, reasonable mind to rest for the duration of the story, it will reward you with an often compelling and quite offbeat tale of the unbreakable bonds that are born of tragedy. Even with its black-as-night sense of humor and its preposterously cruel antics, the movie’s impact is lighthearted and fun.
What helps the film keep its playful tone is its breakneck pace and the wild abandon that invigorates the cinematography. The whole enterprise rolls over you like a spin on a carnival ride.
The film introduces us to Julien and Sophie while they are in grammar school. One sunny day, with the local schoolchildren waiting to get on their bus, Sophie is surrounded by a gang of kids chanting, “dirty Polack.” She stands in the middle of them, not crying. Enter Julien, who offers her a toy: a round metal can with a merry-go-round painted on its surface. This introduction, a friendship forged amid the sick cruelty of youngsters, begins a game of “dare” between the two that will follow them for the rest of their lives.
In their youth, the dares often are of the anarchic, punk rock variety: pissing in front of the principal, destroying a wedding cake, swearing in class. But as the two get older, the dares become emotionally wrenching tests that are sometimes hard to witness. Julien is dared to fuck the school slut and swipe her earrings. Sophie wears her underwear on the outside of her clothes while taking a very important college exam. The cruelest dare takes place during a romantic dinner when Sophie expects to hear a wedding proposal; what she gets instead will keep the two apart for years.
Love Me If You Dare’s premise, however fantastic and allegorical it may seem, takes a worn-out genre, the love story, and runs with it to places you’ve never gone before. For that, it deserves credit. Julien and Sophie are no Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. And neither are the rest of us, which makes the two borderline psychotics in this film that much more appealing. People do play cruel games in the name of love. Yann Samuell just takes it one step further.
In French with English subtitles. Opens at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-263-2111.
Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].