Love Me If You Dare

(Jeax d'Enfants)

Romance with a capital "R," French style, is at the heart of Love Me if You Dare, a sometimes exhilarating, sometimes frustrating movie that borrows stylistically from Amelie. It is about Julien and Sophie, two people who are totally in love with each other, yet cannot admit it to each other, and cannot quite admit it to themselves. It's a love that spans from childhood to the mid-thirties or so, and Love Me If You Dare jumps forward showing how the pair progress over time. It begins when Julien (Thibault Verhaeghe) consoles Sophie (Josephine Lebas-Joly, A L'Abri des Regards Indiscrets, Beautiful Mother) after bullies make fun of the fact that she is Polish. He gives her a toy carousel, and everything stems from there. The two develop a bond and a game; if Sophie has the toy, Julien must do whatever she dares him to, and vice versa. The two slowly grow up, closer than ever, and Julien (Guillaume Canet, The Beach, The Warrior's Brother) and Sophie (Marion Cotillard, Big Fish, A Private Affair) make their dares even more extreme.

Their love is like an addiction. The dares become life threatening at times, and nobody, especially Julien's father (Gerard Watkins, The Wolf of the West Coast) approves. It becomes a hugely disruptive element in their live, enough for the two to dare not to meet for years at a time. Then, the movie will jump forward, and they will pick up right where they left off, their love stronger than ever. It meets even more resistance when both become married to other people. It is as if their dares to each other are ways to prove that they love the other person more than their spouse. For a while, there is something sweet about the antics of these two people. They will do anything for each other, and are hiding their feelings behind dares. At about the halfway point, director Yann Samuell ups the ante, and makes these dares extremely dangerous. Enough so that it feels like Sophie and Julien have death wishes. They are in committed relationships, and unable to truly express their love to each other, so they begin daring each other with cruel, almost sadistic games.

This is Samuell's first film, and he co-wrote it with Jacky Cukier (Holiday, Day After Day). It is bright, colorful, full of happy music (courtesy of Philippe Rombi, Swimming Pool, One Model Employee), and zips along quickly, adding to a sense of happy tension between the two. Cotillard and Canet are beautiful people, and their rapid aging (typically signified by different clothes and hairstyles) looks plausible enough. They make an appealing couple, and have wonderful chemistry together when they are not pissed at each other. There is a sense of fate looming over the horizon, and everybody in the film realizes this, but doesn't seem to want to take that extra step to make fate a reality. This wonderful feeling of anticipation gives way to dread when Samuell makes the film much darker. These two people who were so attractive seem less so, especially when their intentions become all the more malicious.

But then a really strange thing happens. Samuell takes things a step further, with an ending that could only feel at place in a French film. It is wonderfully romantic and sad at the same time, but manages to bring back the sense of inevitability that was present in the first part of Love Me If You Dare. It's an ending that seems to fit perfectly with the story, yet is completely unexpected. The uneven tone gives a sense of imbalance to the story, part of which is necessary, and part of which serves to distract the viewer. By nature the story is a little skewed, but Samuell probably goes a tad too far before realizing this and pulling back.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 35 minutes, French with English subtitles, Rated R for language and some sexuality.

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