Benoît Jacquot, the award winning director of Farewell My Queen, has assembled a sterling cast for his tale of love versus lust set in a provincial French town. Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Benoît Poelvoorde manage to breathe some life into what is a over-long, over-romanticised, over-dramatic story of fickle fate. But it’s a waste of a cast of excellent actors who battle bravely against a labourious scenario in a pseudo-thriller that never delivers enough tension to be convincing.
We meet Mark (Poelvoorde) late one night in a small provincial town after he misses his return train to Paris and bumps into Sylvie (Gainsbourgh) in the street who agrees to help him find a hotel for the night. The two strike up a conversation and end up walking around the town until the early hours talking about everything and nothing although neither reveals their name or gives away any personal history. The two agree to meet later in the week in Paris, but Marc is unable to make the date. Sylvie returns home alone and soon after moves to the States with her partner. Marc returns to Valence for his job and by chance meets Sophie (Mastroianni) and starts a love affair unaware that she is Sylvie’s sister. A few years later Sylvie returns to France for her sister’s wedding only to discover Marc is her new husband.
Although the title is The Hearts, the emotional focus of the film is firmly on Marc and the sister’s feelings, most notably Sophies’, are callously dismissed. Marc is a lonely, anxious man who finds love with Sophie relatively late in life and it’s stretching credibility to accept he puts his new life with a loving wife and son in danger to pursue his passion for Sylvie. If he felt such a strong connection with the younger sister why did he not make more effort to track her down? More worryingly, 3 Coeurs lends weight to the theory – and the premise of many an adolescent film – that two strangers can feel an instant deep connection and a life without passion is somehow second-rate Meanwhile, the trail of clues leading to Sylvie’s true identity are frustratingly slow to bear fruit. There is Marc’s cigarette lighter in Sophie’s kitchen, the Skyped telephone conversation between the two sisters with Marc just out of sight, the photos of the sisters in the mother’s house which Marc never sees. When the penny finally drops it’s a relief as the action can now get underway.
Belgian actor Poelvoorde, more often seen in comic roles, is highly convincing as the staid, tax inspector who is basically a decent man overcome by his passion for Sylvie. Casting Mastroianni and Gainsbourg as sisters is a master stroke as together they make the perfect woman for Marc. Mastroianni’s Sophie is sensitive, selfless and vulnerable while Gainsbourg excels as the mysterious, slightly-crazed, Sylvie. Overseeing the family tensions is Deneuve in the role of family matriarch. Although she is most often sitting at the head of the dinner table serving up delicious food, nothing escapes her watchful eye and she gives the impression that through experience she has learned not to meddle in messy family affairs.
For his next film Jacquot is reunited with Lea Seydoux (Farewell My Queen) for Diary of a Chambermaid which is also a return to period drama – possibly a better fit for the director.