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Cannes 2012: Festival falls in love with Love | reviews, news & interviews

Cannes 2012: Festival falls in love with Love

Cannes 2012: Festival falls in love with Love

Michael Haneke is in surprisingly tender mode, while Peter Doherty joins the ranks of pop stars who can't act

Undying love: Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva

Michael Haneke likes to challenge and provoke us, whether it’s with intellectual puzzles (Hidden), bleak character studies (The Piano Teacher) or a brand of horror that makes us feel uneasily complicit (Funny Games). He’s a brilliant director, and a tough one. So while Love may not be a sudden ray of sunshine, it still feels like a departure for the Austrian, a softening of the provocateur, in which he eschews his customary ironic distance for an intimate and essentially positive account of love in adversity. It is as immaculately made as ever, but also touching and terribly sad, with two magnificent, heartrending central performances. And the festival loved it.

Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play Georges and Anne, a couple in their eighties, retired music teachers still very much in love and, when the film opens, leading a quiet, cultured, dignified life in Paris. But then her health starts seriously to decline. And a man who is no spring chicken finds himself in the role of carer.

Given his day job, Doherty has a surprisingly lack of charismaApart from the opening scene, in a concert hall, the entirety of the film takes place in the couple’s apartment, a space we feel we get to know as intimately as do the characters. Here we observe a careful, thoroughly absorbing depiction of care – feeding, cleaning, carrying, consoling and berating, deflecting the pity of others. The emotions involved are presented with equal precision. The camera spends a great deal of time on Georges’ face as he gazes upon his incapacitated, often vacant, sometimes suffering wife, or reads to her from newspapers and books, or tells her stories from his life before meeting her; and it’s like viewing a changing sky, as tenderness, concern, frustration, bewilderment and love pass across it.

Haneke favourite Isabelle Huppert makes fleeting visits as the couple’s daughter, but the film belongs to the elderly leads. I remember admiring Trintignant's reclusive magistrate in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colours: Red in 1994, when he was 64, and assuming it would be his last truly spectacular performance. I was wrong.

British bad-boy rock star Peter Doherty (pictured right) probably can’t believe his luck to find the first film he’s acted in selected for Cannes. But if he was the chief reason for checking out Confession of a Child of the Century, he is also the chief reason why it’s one of the worst films I’ve seen here.

Writer/director Sylvie Verheyde has listlessly adapted Alfred de Musset’s autobiographical novel, pitching Doherty into the demanding central role of Octave, a disenchanted and debauched young man in 1830s France who falls in love with an older woman and is unable to cope with his emotions. Given his day job, Doherty has a surprisingly lack of charisma – the ruffled cherub look really isn’t appealing on screen – and decidedly dodgy diction. The latter, since he has to provide the theme-filled voice-over, is singularly unhelpful. Having to share scenes with the experienced and gifted Charlotte Gainsbourg merely highlights the miscasting.

Read all Demetrios Matheou's reports from Cannes 2012

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