Dir. Stephane Brize, France, 2005, 93 mins, subtitles
Cast: Patrick Chesnais, Anne Consigny, Georges Wilson, Lionel Abelanski, Cyril Couton
Review by Hemanth Kissoon
"You fuck me off! You fuck me off!” Jean-Claude Delsart (Chesnais)
Romantic-dramas/comedies continually speak to an audience about miscommunication between lovers, especially between the sexes. From Shakespeare to Austen to Hawks to Jeunet, the literary, theatrical and cinematic taps into misunderstanding, second-guessing and pride, all tripping up courtship. Not Here to Be Loved is a cut above the generic fluff that gets churned out for mass consumption by overcoming the formula, through eschewing the gloss and not guaranteeing a happy outcome, which dogs the genre. It is a romantic-drama that is touching without sentimentality.
Jean-Claude Delsart has inherited the family bailiff business from his retired, crotchety father (Wilson). In his fifties, the job has slowly and unwittingly eroded away at his soul. He is so buttoned-down emotionally that he barely smiles. Repossessing from the poor brings him no pleasure. Jean-Claude is no-longer married and his grown-up son (Couton) has just started in the business, but his son’s heart is not in it. He is a gentle, natural-born horticulturist. The repressed Jean-Claude’s only (secret) passion is tango lessons, a melancholy dance that subconsciously calls to him. There he meets Françoise Rubicon (Consigny), a warm-hearted thirty-something about to marry Thierry (Abelanski), a whiney self-absorbed would-be novelist. Both Françoise and Jean-Claude are in prisons of the self, not knowing how they got there. A romance tentatively begins to blossom.
The film definitely falls into the genre conventions of unspoken love, missed opportunities, unrequited suitors being a spanner in the works, weddings and self-discovery. Not Here to Be Loved gets away with the party line because of the great acting and believable dialogue. Unspoken passion has potential heart-break written all over it, and can be far more satisfying than declarations in the rain or to a sympathetic best friend (see The House of Mirth, Remains of the Day and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). It’s too easy to say it, difficult to say it well, and even more so to merely imply it. What also elevates the film are the motifs such as the chore of climbing upstairs for Jean-Claude for his unfulfilling job contrasted with gliding across the floor for his escape; or the washed-out colour, bar the tango lessons. His doctor also tells him at the beginning of the film that he has a ‘coronary insufficiency’, a hint to just about everyone in the film.
The film is not one-note, dealing only with romance, but about the relationship between fathers and sons. They do not seem to get each other; the leap of understanding is too far. There is also a strong suggestion that the inability to express affection instead of stoking it can strangle it.
Like all great films with dancing as a theme, it really is about awakening something dormant, and channelling love and passion, which Not Here to Be Loved does with aplomb.