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Fox Lorber presents
Perfect Love (1996)

"I like sex, but I hate myself."
- Frédérique (Isabelle Renauld)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: May 08, 2002

Stars: Isabelle Renauld, Francis Renaud
Other Stars: Laura Saglio, Alain Soral, Michel Rème
Director: Catherine Breillat

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for nudity, strong language, sexual content, violence
Run Time: 01h:49m:58s
Release Date: March 19, 2002
UPC: 720917531120
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Here's a French spin on the Doomed Relationship Movie, with a Gallic frankness. Unfortunately for the audience, sun-dappled walks on the Dunkerque beach and long, meaningful glances at one's partner, along with a pinch of violence, don't combine into an especially well-told story. There are some patches of truth and insight along the way, but the virtues of Perfect Love are fleeting and inconsistent.

Frédérique (Isabelle Renauld), twice-divorce opthalmologist and mother of two, encounters Christophe (Francis Renaud) at a wedding; soon they start dating, despite his being ten years her junior. He's got a cool motorcycle and a thing for older women, and soon she's hooked. The title of the movie is of course deeply ironic: there is no such thing as perfect love, and certainly not in the relationship at the center of the story. (This is highlighted with an exclamation point in the original French title: Parfait amour!)

The first bloom of love is magical, but things fall off quickly. Frédérique insists on being home every morning, for her children; when she finally lets Christophe stay over, he unintentionally terrorizes the kids in a variety of ways. Vincent, Frédérique's little boy, hears Mommy in the throes of rapture, and thinks that she's being wounded—he's up all night. And after a fight with his girlfriend, Christophe ambles into her adolescent daughter's bedroom, wearing only his underwear and toting a bottle of scotch. (Daddy's home!) And it's not a one-way street, as Frédérique is consistently disgusted by Christophe's best pal Philippe and the sleazy women he brings around; Frédérique is rightly suspicious that when Christophe and Philippe go out, they're chasing girls and having sex. The degeneration continues, into fights, public scenes and humiliations, and ultimately an especially perverse bit of brutality.

The director, Catherine Breillat, favors long takes of her characters, or of the landscape, and while some of them are quite beautiful, after a few of them, you'll be desperate for her to get on with things. (One shot, in particular, of clouds moving over a mountain, just goes on and on. It's pretty, but where are the people?) And it's not just scenery: there are long takes of Frédérique and Christophe, postcoital, filling one another in on their past loves; I suppose we're intended to be disarmed by the candor and the nudity, but Frédérique's tales of her ex-husbands aren't interesting or illuminating, and Christophe soon starts to look as bored as we are. The long takes start as sinuous, but soon the moving camera actually becomes a bit nauseating.

We do learn, though, that both characters have some serious Mommy issues. Christophe still lives with his, and in her one scene she tells him that she and his father had sex only when he raped her. Frédérique lets on that her mother thought that her daughter was a tramp, and threw her out of the house. It's no shock, then, that they both consider themselves psychologically damaged, and that their relationship isn't all sweetness and light.

It's the sort of movie in which characters make broad pronouncements like: "It's easy to be young. Later on, your face shows what's inside you," or "There's only slavery for me in our relationship." And it has many moments in need of irony or levity. When, for instance, Frédérique and Christophe check into a particularly seedy hotel room, he insists to her, in all seriousness: "It's our love that beautifies it." It's hard to take this stuff at face value, though it may highlight another problem for American audiences, and that's the subtitles. My French is rusty, but Christophe seems either presumptuous or insane when he refers to himself as the stepfather to Frédérique's children, and he sounds like a Vegas swinger when he introduces Frédérique to some friends as "my lady." The character is either totally fatuous or done a disservice in translation.

There's a brief prologue alerting us that a horribly violent event has happened, but it's overstating the case to say that the story moves inexorably toward it. Rather, the movie is more interested in behavior, which is fine, but the behavior on display isn't especially interesting, and the filmmaker offers no particular insights. The problem, ultimately, isn't the explicitness with which this relationship is depicted, though much seems to have been made about Breillat's "brave" bit of filmmaking; it's that the two principal characters are hollow, little more than vessels for bromides about relationships that we're supposed to take as gospel. If the movie's storytelling ability could match its alleged daring, Perfect Love would have been so much more successful.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: There are some lovely images, particularly of nightscapes, but the video presentation is marred by many scratches and blotches on the frame. Color and black levels are generally strong and consistent, but the amount of debris on the image can be downright jarring.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchno

Audio Transfer Review: The audio track is undistinguished, though without too much external interference. Hissing is at a minimum, happily.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The very brief filmographies are for the two lead actors, Renauld and Renaud, and for the director, Catherine Breillat. C'est tout.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Perfect Love may be ambitious and daring, but ultimately it rings rather false. The two lead actors are capable, and there are flashes of what might have been a good movie about a relationship going south; instead, it all sags a bit, and could have used some more scrutiny from the filmmakers, instead of self-congratulation.


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