Heartbreaker (15)

Directed by Pascal Chaumeil
Screening at FACT till 27th July 2010

Reviewed by Charles McIntyre

The recent tide of French cinema to reach our shores has been rich in gritty realism, whether it be the emotionally involved 35 Shots of Rum, or the graphically violent A Prophet. To see a massively successful formulaic rom-com spout forth from this wave is more than a little surprising. Even the latest offering from Amelie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet – Micmacs – was zany enough to impede box office success. But Pascal Chaumeil's Heartbreaker seems to have ticked all the boxes necessary to become an internationally palatable romantic comedy - despite the subtitles.

The film follows professional 'couple breaker' Alex Lippi, played by Romain Duris, who is hired out to seduce women falling for unsuitable partners and help them see the flaws in their relationships. Problems arise when he must win over the very much in love Juliette (Vanessa Paradis) and all the while prevent himself from becoming emotionally involved.

The film's premise isn't particularly original, or even appealing, and yet it has been winning audiences over world wide. Why is this? Firstly, Heartbreaker is a first class 'feel-good' film. Usually, the 'feel good' endorsement is a stamp of Hollywood mediocrity, but Heartbreaker earns the definition literally. This is due to several factors, but must first be attributed to Duris' performance. Duris, renown for his moody portrayals in The Beat that My Heart Skipped and Dans Paris, dons the guise of comedic lead – stylised, cool and outgoing – but continues to delve into the conflicted aspect of Alex's character. Admittedly the depth of this exploration is scarce and fleeting, but Duris manages to build a character intriguing enough to carry the fanciful plot to its conclusion. Furthermore, Duris is a hugely compelling screen actor, and never lets the film fall away from his performance.

Credit must also go to Chaumeil, who manges to save the film from drowning in Hollywood clichés. It is notable that Chaumeil has previously worked on a number of Luc Besson films, as Besson mastered the art of fusing French and American cinema. In a similar way Chaumeil manges to balance French style with Hollywood glamour in Heartbreaker, and although the film suffers from limp set pieces and bouts of predictability, the emotional charge and honesty integral to French cinema is ever present.

Heartbreaker is no masterpiece, but the commitment to its premise means that its weaker moments are forgiveable. The film's strength lies in its comedy and characterisation, and its sometimes beautifully composed shots help the film slip into an 'above average' category that any romantic comedy requires to be taken seriously. Heartbreaker is a godsend for the French film industry, and may even be the saviour of the romantic comedy genre.

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