"Love Me If You Dare," which marks the feature debut of Yann Samuell, yet another edgy Belgian director, is an ambitious, stylized fable about an overpowering but impossible love. It just might find a niche as a cult film.
Yet while Samuell is, undeniably, an original and daring talent, he has created the kind of film that, in relentlessly upping its ante, becomes harder to watch as it goes along and all the tougher to resolve satisfactorily.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday May 28, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Director's nationality -- The movie review of "Love Me if You Dare" in the May 21 Calendar section misidentified director Yann Samuell as being Belgian. The film was shot in Belgium, but Samuell is French.
With opening sequences shot in the quainter sections of Brussels and Liege, the film has a storybook quality as it tells of Julien (Thibault Verhaeghe), an irrepressible 8-year-old whose beloved mother (Emmanuelle Gronvold) is terminally ill. Resisting such an unbearable reality, Julien is in a mood to respond to a classmate, Sophie (Josephine Lebas-Joly), who takes a defiant stance toward being heckled constantly by the other students as a "Dirty Polack" because her parents are Polish immigrants.
It would seem that Julien recognizes in Sophie the strength of the mother he is about to lose and decides to give to Sophie a round tin box with a carousel design, a cherished gift from his mother. She accepts it with a dare to Julien in return, and an unending game is underway.
Sophie and Julien become instant friends but can't stop their dare game, which involves pranks on themselves and others, which while often clever and sometimes funny, are from the start also cruel and dangerous. (No sooner has Julien met Sophie than he releases the brake on a bus full of their classmates.)
The first of various jumps in time is to Sophie (Marion Cotillard) and Julien (Guillaume Canet) as teenagers. When Sophie finds the courage to declare her love for Julien, he rebuffs it with yet another dare.
As Samuell fast-forwards again and again, both marry others and settle into conventional lives, but the thrill of the dare, which derails their ability to express their all-consuming love for each other, persists. And persists.
As they grow older, they become more involving as characters but, unfortunately, their antics become increasingly tiresome to watch. The pranks, the dares, the hurts they inflict on each other increasingly heighten their mutual passion, making their regular lives with their spouses seem dull in comparison, but it also makes it scarier for them to even try to consummate it. In short, their gamesmanship becomes ever more destructive.
"Love Me If You Dare" becomes as perverse in its windup as its characters with what amounts to two endings, the second an epilogue redolent of sentimentality that's at odds with all that has gone before.
The film is loaded with striking visuals, high energy and all-stops portrayals from its actors, but for all of Samuell's imaginative cinematic bravura, it is, finally, mainly exasperating. Phooey on Julien and Sophie's excruciating l'amour fou.
`Love Me If You Dare'
MPAA rating: R, for language and some sexuality
Times guidelines: Too intense for children
Thibault Verhaeghe...Julien at 8
Josephine Lebas-Joly...Sophie at 8
Emmanuelle Gronvold...Julien's mother
A Paramount Classics release of a Nord-Ouest presentation. Writer-director-story board artist Yann Samuell. Producer Christophe Rossignon. Executive producer Eve Machuel. Screenplay and dialogue with the collaboration of Jacky Cukier and L'Atelier Equinoxe. Cinematographer Antoine Roch. Editor Andrea Sedlackova. Music Philippe Rombi. Costumes Julie Mauduech. Production designer Jean-Michel Simonet. Set decorators Pierre Decraen, Jean Paul Merckens. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.
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