There's much more arguing than sex in this three-hour wedge-of-life film about 20-something Parisian intellectuals and their romantic interactions.
It has a verbal promiscuousness which is reminiscent of the French New Wave in its early-'60s prime, and indeed its director and co-screenwriter, Arnaud Desplechin, has said in an interview that "for a French guy to make a film like this is like an American guy making a Western."
At the heart of this ceaseless chatter is Paul Dedalus (Mathieu Amalric), a philosophy grad student who can't quite finish that dissertation which will elevate him from associate to full professorship, can't quite break up with his girlfriend of 10 years, can't forgive himself for being attracted to his best friend's girl, and can't quite stop himself from becoming briefly involved with an obvious fruitcake who shatters what's left of his tenuous stability with her antic mind games.
Other characters floating by include an ex-communist who has decided to have a go at Catholicism, an old mentor of Paul's who's showing the first signs of Alzheimer's disease, and an ex-colleague and now enemy who has become a masterwork of affectation, plying his students with empty epigrams when not walking his pet monkey.
Amalric plays his role with considerable charm &emdash; his look of dazzled eagerness suggests someone for whom indecision has become a kind of drug &emdash; and Desplechin directs in a busy verité style which supplies momentum even as the story lulls. But though the film's mix of broad humor and intense seriousness &emdash; another New Wave inheritance &emdash; is deftly handled, in the end it becomes somewhat exasperating to spend so much time with characters who are overanalytical, know they are overanalytical and are determined to analyze just why that is.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].