Friday, January 05, 2007

Love Bites – review


Directed by: Antoine De Caunes

Release Date: 2001

Contains spoilers

The story of how I bought this DVD is one in which there was the potential of hating the film due to inaccurate expectations. Expectation is a dangerous thing you see… but I get ahead of myself. In the UK there was a TV programme called “Euro Trash”, a weekly, and amusing, look at the more sleazy side of European culture, presented by Antoine De Caunes. One week the programme featured details of a film directed by De Caunes, Les Morsures de l'aube or Love Bites.

My initial reaction was one of having to get this film. Given that in Britain we only really knew De Caunes through Euro Trash (and the earlier Rapido) I was unaware of De Caunes reputation as a serious actor, journalist and director. I simply thought, Antoine has made a vampire flick – it’s going to be sexploitation city. So you see I already had expectations for the film that I will come back to.

Then there was the issue of finding the film. I could get it from France (unsubtitled) or Holland (with Dutch subtitles) but neither were much use to a man who can, ashamedly, only speak and read English. Eventually, after much searching, I managed to find the film in Canada with English subtitles. The search had built even more expectations, I had searched so long for it that I really wanted it to be great.

unpleasant deathWhen the film arrived I discovered that it was not the sexploitation flick I expected. De Caunes had crafted a modern arthouse thriller that, if anything, had overtones of the work of the great David Lynch. My expectations were dashed but the great thing was… I loved it.

The film follows the misadventures of Antoine (Guillaume Canet). Antoine has been split up from his wife for three years and is addicted to night life (and to the bubbles in champagne). He walks the streets of Paris conning his way into fashionable party after fashionable party, subsisting on the champagne and food at the events. When we meet him he is trying to enter a Café, but the bouncer, Gérard (Frédéric Pellegeay), is Gérard Lanvin as Étiennehaving none of it – calling Antoine a leech. During their altercation a limo drives past the Café and Gérard says hello to the occupant, a socialite called Jordan (Orazio Massaro), though we do not see inside the car. Following this, some smooth talking persuades an actor to ensure Antoine’s entry to the Café and he goes to see if his friend, Étienne (Gérard Lanvin), knows of any parties he can crash.

There is one, but when Antoine gets there he realises that gaining entry will be difficult. He and a female “night owl”, as these people are known, try to enter and Antoine drops Jordan’s name at the door, which seems to do the trick. During the party he is collared by a couple of heavies, who take him to meet his ‘host’, who we later discover is called Abraham Von Bulow (Jean-Marie Winling). Von Bulow hosts these parties with the sole intention of meeting Jordan and, even though Antoine admits he doesn’t really know him, Von Bulow forces Antoine to search the night for Jordan, with an advance cash payment of 100,000 francs and a promise of a million francs when Jordan is found.

Antoine, disturbed by the turn of events, goes to Étienne for help who has a contact investigate Von Bulow. Later in the film we discover that Von Bulow is a Swiss employee of the living by the poolUnited Nations, with a diplomatic passport whose job is to investigate cults and the paranormal. Having spoken to his friend Antoine goes ‘home’ and we see how far the man has fallen. He spends his days sleeping by the pool of a private gym and living out of a locker in the changing rooms – reliant on a friend supplying him with free membership.

first view of ViolaineI don’t want to go too far into the story but Antoine ends up descending deeper and deeper into Paris’ seedy under-belly, getting himself into mortal danger at every turn. I do, however, want to look at the vampiric aspects of the film. Jordan believes himself to be a vampire, as does his sister Violaine (Asia Argento). Jordan, until the end, remains a shadowy figure but Antoine finds Violaine and hopes to find Jordan through her.

I say they believe themselves to be vampires, but there are hints through the film that they are not entirely human. is there really more than 1?Violaine and Antoine go to bed and we get here a surreal scene that, potentially, might be down to the drug that Violaine slips in the unlikely hero’s champagne but also may be real. As Antoine succumbs to the drug Violaine seems to become three versions of herself, the scene reminiscent of Harker’s misadventures with the brides in the 1992 Dracula. Each one wears a wicked looking finger sheath – fangs are not involved.

arguement during the feedDuring the scene there is a knock at the door and one of the Violaines gets up and answers the door. We see a shadowy figure, who is obviously Jordan, and they argue as to whether she will actually sleep with Antoine. When that Violaine leaves the room, another (third one) appears on the bed. Given the direction in which the film goes it is likely that the communication, if it truly occurred, was telepathic.

after a night with the vampireThe next day we see Antoine returning to the swimming pool, his suit is shredded. When he showers we see that his body is a mass of scratches. I said that fangs are not involved but one or two people Antoine and Étienne find have actually met Jordan and have been bitten by him. These encounters have left scars in a normal human dental pattern.

Violaine in daylightWe hear that neither sibling likes the sun, but that is not to say that they burst into flames, we actually see Violaine in sunlight at one point. When we hear of their past we discover that when they were at a Swiss boarding school both brother and sister avoided the sun and were labeled vampires by their classmates. They are described as being like albinos, but without the lack of pigmentation.

Jordan meets his endVon Bulow, however, really believes they are vampires and Jordan meets his ‘end’ at the man’s hand. This includes being speared through the stomach, shot and then, as he is still alive, staked by dagger in the heart. I put ‘end’ in inverted comments as there is doubt as to whether Jordan actually dies.

The film has a wicked streak of black humour through it. At one point Antoine is grabbed by a gang of bikers who are to punish him by gang-raping him and then to hold him for Gérard who wishes to cut Antoine’s tongue out. There is then discussion as they all forgot to bring condoms and they certainly won’t rape someone they don’t know without. Instead they beat him.

Antoine is a great character, but as I said before he is an unlikely hero. He is a liar, he is self-obsessed and a confidence trickster. He shows himself capable of violence, and yet is squeamish about such acts – his actions seem born of desperation. Yet somehow, through Canet’s performance, we grow to like him and actually root for him. Asia Argento is suitably mysterious, and weirdly menacing, as Violaine as well as being strangely beautiful.

The direction is superb and, as I have said, has more than a little feel of Lynch – the jazz based soundtrack also brings Lynch to mind and perhaps also gives a Noirish feel to the film.

This film is strange and surreal, and I really enjoy it. 8 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Margaret said...

I really wanted to love this movie, unfortunately the only copy I could ever get my hands on here was via a Chinese distributor, have you ever tried to watch a French film with English subtitles that were created in China?

It is completely maddening trust me.

I think I understood more of what happened in this film from your review than I could possibly piece together from the cryptic subtitles I had to endure. At one point I even tried to just listen to their French with my limited ability to understand it rather than try to decipher what nonsense was being written at the bottom of the screen.

Needless to say, the whole experience tarnished what I think ultimately would have been an excellent film.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I looked for this for some time, after discovering it had been released. A French DVD was available, but without subs and that, it seemed, was all.

However I eventually found it on Canadian DVD and the subs were absolutely fine.

I hope you are able to see it with good subtitles at some point.