After the disappointing Salaud On t’Aime, Claude Lelouche is back on familiar territory with a simple love story between a Man and a Woman. Set in India in all its splendour, brought to life magnificently if a little disingenuously, by cinematographer Robert Alazraki, Un plus Une oozes charm due mainly to the casting of Jean Dujardin in the lead role. There is chemistry enough to spare with the beautiful, porcelaine-skinned, Elsa Zylberstein as the love interest. But this is Dujardin’s film from the opening scene with its self-mocking dialogue to the liberal sprinkling of improvised scenes so much loved by Lelouche. It’s romantic comedy French style – plenty of chat and introspection with a smattering of infidelity and spousal jealousy.
Premiered at the Festval du Film Francophone d’Angoulême, Jardin plays Antoine Abeilard a famous film score composer who travels to India to write the music for an Indian version of Romeo and Juliet. On arrival he meets Anna the wife of the French Ambassador Samuel Hamon ( Christophe Lambert) and the two immediately hit it off. Anna is just about to set off on a journey to Kerala in southern India to meet the spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi, known as Amma, in the hope she willl help her concieve a child. Although highly sceptical about the legendary Amma’s mystic powers, Antoine decides to accompany Anna on the long journey south to find a remedy for his incessant migraine. The two leave behind them in Delhi the French Ambassador and Antoine’s girlfriend Alice (Alice Pol) newly arrived from Paris.
The director has spent much of his 50+ years behind the camera producing variations on his favourite theme of love and Lelouche diehards will not be disappointed by this new spin on an old theme. Here the 78-year-old veteran director explores what happens when a woman who believes in a spiritual world governed by mystical forces meets a man who has his two feet planted firmly on the ground. The gulf that separates them gradually lessens as they flirt and verbally clash over a wide range of topics. But this is definitely a case of form over content. There’s never any doubt the two will overcome their differences and hop into bed. What Lelouche has done is provided an exotic backdrop to an all-too predictable story. His India is colourful, exciting and stunningly beautiful, wilfully ignoring the poverty and misery that is a daily reality for millions of Indians. The meeting with Amma does raise the bar. Filmed documentary-style, Amma herself was aware there were actors in the crowd waiting to receive her blessing but she didn’t know exactly who. This gives the scenes in Kerala a touching authenticity missing elsewhere in the narrative.
Dujardin is as charismatic as always although happily never at the expense of his co-stars. Zylberstein pulls off a credible turn as the quirky, vulnerable Anna who is immediately drawn to Antoine. With music by Francis Lai, awarded an Oscar in 1971 for Love Story
and who also composed the score for A Man and A Woman, Un plus Une
promises more than it delivers.