Adding a twist to the two-guys-and-a-girl scenario found in such iconic French films as Jules and Jim and A Woman is a Woman, actor-turned-director Louis Garrel offers up a charming if not entirely convincing feature debut with the three-way romantic dramedy, Two Friends (Les Deux Amis).
Starring Garrel himself alongside indie stalwart Vincent Macaigne and Paris-based Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani (About Elly), this well-performed urban tryst channels a very New Wave-ish vibe, though doesn’t always deliver the needed level of gravitas. A Cannes Critics’ Week premiere should help push this très français effort overseas.
A seductive three-way dramedy whose appeal mostly lies on the surface
Co-written with Christophe Honore– in whose own Parisian three-hander, Love Songs, Garrel played a guy caught in a bisexual love triangle – the scenario offers up plenty of moments for the talented trio to strut their stuff, with Farhani literally doing just that during a memorable dive bar performance piece. But such scenes do not really build towards a powerful enough finale, in what ultimately feels like a lightweight Gallic bromance closer to Judd Apatow than to Jean-Luc Godard.
An opening scene shows 30ish beauty, Mona (Farahani), showering in slow motion to the tunes of Philippe Sarde’s hardworking score – which, like the film, alternates between playfulness and passages of darkness. Only when the scene cuts do we realize that Mona is actually a convict serving time in prison, traveling to Paris a few days a week to work at a concession stand in the Gare de l’Est train station.
Mona’s complicated life is further upended by Clement (Macaigne), a professional movie extra and complete nervous wreck with whom she’s been having a platonic fling, although Clement hopes to take things a step further. He enlists his best buddy – the tall, dark and handsome aspiring writer, Abel (Garrel) – to help win her over, but the plan inevitably backfires when Mona and Abel lock eyes for the first time.
Set over the course of three tumultuous days and nights, the freewheeling narrative works best during a handful of energetic set-pieces, most notably an extended film shoot where the trio dresses up as students during the May ’68 riots – an obvious nod to Bernardo Bertulucci’s The Dreamers and to Philippe Garrel’s Regular Lovers, both of which starred the young Garrel. (Meanwhile, Garrel senior has a movie in Cannes this year about a man caught between two women. As they say in France: “tel pere, tel fils”.)
But as the story comes to a head and the three wind up at the same Parisian hotel, it becomes clear that Two Friends is all-too true to its title, with Mona serving mostly as an excuse for Clement and Abel to work out their dude issues – as if Seth Rogen and James Franco suddenly found themselves stranded on the rue du Chateau d’eau at 2am. What could thus have been a compelling portrait of three desperate 30-somethings turns into a series of gags interspersed with semi-successful attempts at drama, captured in colorful shades by DP Claire Mathon (Stranger by the Lake).
Even though her character is a bit of a letdown, Farahani – who played a similar girl in Mia Hansen-Love’s Eden – does an excellent job as the unpredictable femme fatale, lighting up the screen during two exuberant dance sequences as Mona goes from cold to hot to cold again. Macaigne portrays his usual neurotic self, switching between comedy and tragedy in the span of a few seconds, while Garrel is typically seductive as a wannabe writer whose heart is torn asunder by the whole affair.
“Not this one,” Clement says early on with regards to the new girl in their lives, well aware of his best bud’s killer sex appeal. Like Abel, Garrel certainly lures us in with his film, but he doesn’t quite seal the deal.
Production company: Les Films des Tournelles, Arte France Cinema
Cast: Golshifteh Farahani, Vincent Macaigne, Louis Garrel
Director: Louis Garrel
Screenwriters: Louis Garrel, Christophe Honore
Producer: Anne-Dominique Toussaint
Director of photography: Claire Mathon
Production designer: Jean Rabasse
Costume designer: Justine Pearce
Editor: Joelle Hache
Composer: Philippe Sarde
International sales: Indie Sales
No rating, 102 minutes