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3 reviews, 6 user ratings

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How much do you love me?
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by Stephen Groenewegen

"For love or money?"
3 stars

Combien tu m’aimes? is the latest from French auteur Bertrand Blier. He’s made a deadpan comedy. It’s easy to imagine Jim Jarmusch chuckling away to himself in the dark in the seat behind you.

Francois (Bernard Campan) peers into the display window of a brothel in Paris’s Pigalle district. A nervous, balding office worker, he seems an unlikely match for the glamorous Italian beauty (Monica Bellucci) on show. Until, that is, he enters and announces that he has won 4.5 million euros in the lottery. If he paid Daniela 100,000 euros a month, would she move in with him?

Before you can say “indecent proposal”, Daniela is wrapped in a fur coat, sitting opposite Francois on the sofa in his modest apartment. It sounds like every hetero man’s fantasy, but the complications soon begin to multiply.

Francois has a weak heart – and a nosy doctor friend (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) who warns him that Daniela is bad for his health: “a guy with a weak ticker shouldn’t be with a nuclear bomb!” He must also contend with a posse of nosy co-workers with a habit of turning up announced, and a lusty translator neighbour (Farida Rahouadj) aggravated by the sound of their lovemaking. Daniela has problems of her own, not least of which is a possessive gangster boyfriend (Gérard Depardieu) with a fondness for breaking the knees of anyone who betrays him.

Combien tu m’aimes? is Blier’s 19th movie (others include Les Acteurs/Actors (2000), Trop belle pour toi/Too Beautiful for You (1989) and Préparez vos mouchoirs/Get out your handkerchiefs (1978)). He’s a filmmaker with a penchant for improvisation, which may be why some of the scenes go on too long and the movie takes a while to find its feet. But it also explains the pleasant surprise of having a scene follow a loopy tangent or veer off into unpredictable craziness.

Campan is astutely cast as an ordinary man with guile; likeable enough, but not someone you need feel sorry for because he can look after himself. Depardieu’s working relationship with Blier goes back to the mid-1970s. His part here is relatively small, but Depardieu is having fun skulking amongst the ostentatious kitsch of his gangster’s lair, more comfortable with his bodyguards than his lover.

Blier wrote Daniela’s part with Bellucci in mind, and she certainly commands attention. It helps that Blier and cinematographer François Catonné worship the graceful curves of her figure. Much is made of Bellucci’s Italian heritage – including a visual reference to Sophia Loren’s housewife hanging laundry in Una giornata particolare (1977) (Ettore Scola’s Oscar-nominated A Special Day). Italian opera - from the likes of Verdi, Bellini and Puccini - blasts from the soundtrack.

Directors frequently slap an aria on the soundtrack as a short cut to conveying grand passion. Blier uses the music more as ironic counterpoint to the comedy of discomfort unravelling on screen. Opera can be the perfect accompaniment to melodrama, but even when Combien tu m’aimes? strays into melodramatic territory, Blier doesn’t stop winking at the audience.

The lesson of the movie, if there is one, is that an ordinary male schlub can win the heart of a voluptuous creature like Daniela, under the right conditions. Blier’s interested in the human willingness to trade affection and buy love, but this is nothing we haven’t seen before. Unless you’re especially enamoured of Ms. Bellucci, Combien tu m’aimes? is hard going while it’s just about ordinary looking guys ogling an attractive woman.

It wasn’t till the arrival of Rahouadj’s irate neighbour that I actually laughed. She demonstrates to Francois – with priceless comic conviction - how a woman in the throes of orgasm should really sound. She’s incidental to the theme, and her unexpected appearance lifts the mood. From that point, I began to respond to Blier’s fancy. By the fairy tale ending, my guard had dropped and resistance to Combien tu m’aimes? all but seeped away.

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originally posted: 03/29/06 13:07:17
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User Comments

7/23/11 mindy what terrific writing, stephen 4 stars
2/14/11 tony Gieske Who did the beautiful tenor saxophone cues? 4 stars
1/04/08 Enzo Baker A delightful movie about desire, love, and magic. 4 stars
7/28/06 Veronique A Dawson very sensuous film. appreciates the female form. very funny at times. 4 stars
5/03/06 Anthony very French 4 stars
4/15/06 Toad Sheehan A French celebration of women's sexuality; happily anti-Hollywood formulae. 4 stars
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  13-Apr-2006 (MA)

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