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Movie Review

'Life' is a breezy melodrama

From left, Bernard Campan, Lea Drucker, and Charles Berling. From left, Bernard Campan, Lea Drucker, and Charles Berling. (Strand Releasing)
Email|Print| Text size + By Mark Feeney
Globe Staff / November 9, 2007

The mistral isn't supposed to last in the south of France beyond spring, but if "The Man of My Life" is to be trusted meteorologically, it keeps blowing well into summer. How else to account for the endlessly billowing curtains in the Peter Mayle-worthy vacation rental that's been taken by an affluent French couple, Frederic and Frederique, and their extended family?

As the far-too-neat symmetry of those names suggests, Zabou Breitman, who co-wrote the script as well as directed, doesn't let plausibility stand in the way of a good metaphor, symbol, or plot device. Might it be the winds of change that keep those curtains moving? There's also a very phallic-looking water spigot, a thumping disco in the middle of the picturesque Provencal village, and the Dionysian personality of the couple's next-door neighbor, Hugo, and his eruption into their Apollonian existence.

Hugo (Charles Berling) is proudly, defiantly gay. The minute he and Frederic (Bernard Campan) start staring at each other, you don't need a weatherman to know which way the mistral's blowing. Berling looks like an avid, slightly demonic Bill Paxton. As for Campan, he could be Stanley Tucci's anxious cousin. It's Lea Drucker, who's quite winning in the thankless role of Frederique, who has cause to be anxious.

"The Man of My Life" was a hit at the MFA's French Film Festival last summer, and it's easy to see why. The film has a loose, easy rhythm befitting its sun-splashed look. Even as Frederic broods and Frederique wonders, people picnic and swim. Birds twitter. Children happily squeal. Hugo carries Frederic (who's sprained his ankle) through a sea of sunflowers.

Rhythm and look almost, but not quite, compensate for an overly schematic and fundamentally melodramatic plot. During the final half hour, Breitman pulls out the stops: an attempted rape, an unexpected daughter, a dying parent, a scandalous disease, a deathbed reconciliation, bouts of weeping. French provincial gives way to Scandinavian modern. Peter Mayle readers will be perplexed.

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