Even Lovers Get The Blues

Belgium (2016) Dir. Laurent Micheli

Queen guitarist Brian May famously wrote the song Too Much Love Will Kill You but if he had seen this film first, perhaps he might have changed it to Too Much Sex Will Kill You as that seems to be the central message of this prurient relationship drama. Okay, only one person actually dies but there’s a lot of damage done via priapic tomfoolery.

The story revolves around three couples, all friends – Louis (Arnaud Bronsart) and Léo (Séverine Porzio), Dalhia (Adriana Da Fonseca) and Graziano (Gabriel Da Costa), and Hugo (Gaël Maleux) and Ana (Marie Denys). After a heavy sex session Hugo suffers a seizure and dies. Unable to cope with her grief Ana finds herself sleeping with any man she takes a liking to.

Meanwhile Louis and Léo may have a healthy sex life but Louis wanting a baby which Léo doesn’t puts a strain on their relationship. Elsewhere the spark has gone in the love life of Dalhia and Graziano until Hugo’s promiscuous gay brother Arthur (Tristan Schotte) shows up and ends up sleeping with Graziano. Things come to a head when the group go away together on a camping trip.

Writer-director Laurent Micheli is a noted theatre actor and director in his native Belgium and this is his first foray into cinema. I have no knowledge of the sort of plays he has written but I’m assuming they are not as explicit or a daring as this film, suggesting the jump to cinema was to explore these ideas with a greater freedom.

Opening with an graphic montage featuring all of the principals in flagrante (separately) sees Micheli boldly set out his stall for what we can expect to see if his debut, as well as maybe celebrating this loosening of the shackles between the scope of what can be shown on the stage and the screen. In some ways Micheli has peaked in terms of explicit content in this pre-credit scene but not within the context of the storyline.

Unfortunately, there is very little to add to the above synopsis as the story alternates between sex and domestic squabbles and does little to develop them in any meaningful way. Once the individual routes of the characters are established, this formula is adhered to quite rigidly until the camping trip where sex is for the most part NOT on the agenda for once.

Hugo’s death occurs before the credits but the passion between him and Ana is obvious and they seem the happiest of the three couples; Dalhia and Graziano try to get it on in a grotty club toilet but Graziano is too worried about people coming in which kills his buzz, becoming a recurring trend for them; singer Léo and Louis do it in their car, still on an adrenaline high after Léo’s gig, but her insistence Louis pulls out ruins that union.

Part from Hugo’s name being the only one spoken during his seizure in the opening sequence the cast aren’t introduced in a sufficient enough manner that one could put name to face later, largely because they were seen in harsh lighting and because they are physically similar. Both Louis and Graziano are tall lanky dark haired chaps with hipster beards and Ana and Dalhia could be mistaken for each other with their hair tied back.

Arthur shows up halfway through for Louis’ birthday party at the club he works at, which ends when Arthur passes out after a cocaine bender. Graziano, who also indulged, takes him back to his place and the inevitable happens while Dalhia stays on at the club, to remain unaware something is happening until the camping trip, where the booze flows and truths are revealed.

Something else revealed here is Micheli’s inability to create any sustained drama to hold the audience’s interest. The camping trip takes place in the last 20 minutes of this 95-minute film yet any fireworks expected are damp squibs, petty alcohol fuelled squabbles that are suddenly resolved 10 minutes later without explanation.

Perhaps the audience is spared the typically schmaltzy reconciliation scenes – bar one – one expects from this scenario but offering nothing as to how they resolved their issues is arguably worse. But the cast are so unlikeable and obnoxious, as self-obsessed as they are sex obsessed, that we aren’t given reason to care about their disputes and dilemmas – including Ana’s promiscuous grief mechanism which is never explained.

Whilst the story and drama fails to engage the audience, Micheli’s seamless leap from theatre to cinema is impressive, showing no signs of replicating the rigidity and confines of the stage setting as other have, instead taking a headlong jump into this freer medium and exploring it much as it as possible, favouring a vibrant arty style for the excesses of the decadent lifestyles juxtaposed with the stolid aesthetic of normal life.

As the sex is a major talking point of this film, Micheli avoids the, romanticised approach of mainstream cinema preferring intimate, sweaty, clumsy, and in one instance, deeply uncomfortable fornication. This removes the clichéd fantasies of unrealistic expectations thus extracting the titillation and erotica many will be expecting to see.

This is a bold debut not just for Micheli but also Marie Denys and Adriana Da Fonseca, both taking huge leaps with such provocative first time roles, particularly Denys, as much of her screen time involves Ana performing some form of sexual activity. Everyone in the cast inhabits their characters as if it is their own, whilst the chemistry between them, no matter how fractured it might become, feels very credible.

It is therefore a shame that the script is sorely lacking any substance and depth commensurate to the naturally rich performances, and make us care about the characters or form any emotional investment in their situations. This leaves Even Lovers Get The Blues as visually arresting and sexually charged affair but shallow and unable to engage an audience beyond the superficial.