Last Sunday, I watched La Belle Personne for the first time. I had wanted to watch it for a long time after seeing countless moody pictures of Léa Seydoux and her perfect nose whenever I lazily scrolled through Tumblr. While it was a film I was desperate to see, I couldn’t really be bothered to watch it. (Does anyone else get that? You set your eyes on a film that you know you will probably adore, but you also know that it will take a lot of emotional effort to watch it, so you keep saying ‘ugh, I really want to see that’ when anyone ever talks about it like there’s something physically stopping you from watching the film of your dreams, when in reality the only thing stopping you is your compulsive rewatching of shitty films from the early 2000’s). So, after a long time waiting, I finally felt in the perfect mood to watch a French film that may or may not break my heart. That mood is fleeting and hard to come by. It’s the sole reason I’m always late to the party when it comes to watching new films. By the time I watch the film, everyone’s over it, and all I want to do is talk about it. This instance was no different, I mean, I’m writing a whole blog post just so I can talk about it.
I had just trawled through London in the freezing cold coming back from my Grandparent’s house where we had celebrated my brothers birthday and I had enough sour cream pretzels to sink a small ship. So, disregarding everyone else in the flat I shut myself in my bedroom, put my headphones on and let the film suck me in. (To add another filo-thin layer to my increasingly antisocial personality, I don’t really enjoy watching films I actually want to watch, out loud, with other people. If it’s a funny film that I know I won’t be that invested in, great. If it’s a film I’ve been looking forward to and I know I want to hear every deafening silence, every intake of breath, me and my headphones are going at it alone. I’m great to hang out with, you can probably tell).
God, La Belle Personne was so infuriating, in the best possible way. The story is loosely based on the seventeenth-century novel, La Princesse de Clèves. In the film, Léa Seydoux plays Junie, a high-school student that starts at a new school following the death of her mother. She quickly attracts the attention of pretty much every boy in the school, most importantly Otto (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet), a quietly understated friend of her cousins who she knows will adore her forever, and Nemours (Louis Garrel), her brooding Italian teacher, whose love she sees as fleeting and deadly. Without revealing too much about it, it will leave you infatuated, infuriated and everything in between. I haven’t seen a film that has teased with my emotions so relentlessly in so long. Which is strange, because I watch a lot of critically acclaimed, big-budget masterpieces and in contrast, this is a fairly low-budget television film that tears audiences in opinion, nevertheless, I was hooked.
Like any film, it has its faults. I agree with many other people that the sub-plot kind of eclipsed the main, more intriguing plot that I was following with feverish desperation. The sub-plot being so thick and fleshed out was a little unnecessary and distracting for me, I mean, in all honesty when anyone came on the screen that wasn’t Léa Seydoux or Louis Garrel I got mildly frustrated and audibly (yes, it’s possible) rolled my eyes. Maybe I’m just in love with their story which is giving me tunnel vision that is unfair to the film as a whole. While I still feel, yeah, it could have been better, I can’t stop thinking about it. It was one of those films that made me sit up and go ‘shit, I really do want to make films’ because it made me want to make people feel the way it made me feel.
To me, no one makes films about love like French directors do; the portrayal is always so much more raw, more intense, more devastating, more philosophical at the hands of a French writer or director. I think the philosophical aspect is what is missing from a lot of modern love stories that don’t quite resonate with me, they feel like something is missing, like there’s a flicker of brilliance lingering under the surface that can’t quite come up for air. Maybe this is the reason I’m obsessing over it so much. I can’t stop looking at film stills, even though they pretty much all look the same; shades of white, grey and beige bleeding with the stark dark hair and pale skin of Léa Seydoux and Louis Garrel mingled together. In all honesty, it probably doesn’t help that I’ve had a candle burning the size of a fucking church pillar for Louis Garrel since The Dreamers. That scene where he aggressively smokes a cigarette wearing an emerald-green velvet jacket and literally nothing else has been scorched into my brain for eternity. I hate to admit at one point I even had to ask myself if I would like La Belle Personne half as much if I wasn’t aesthetically drawn to both leads, but I suppose, to a degree, this could be said about any film. The actor has to fit the character and Junie is supposed to be devastatingly beautiful and Nemours, handsome as all hell. Of course, we’re visually drawn to beautiful people and beautiful things but I’d like to think I have more depth than to like a film based solely on how much I fancy the lead actors.
Obviously before settling down my obsession spiralled out of control for a hot minute and naturally, I bought a winge (wig fringe) in a half-hearted attempt to look like a cheap knock-off of Léa Seydoux and somehow embody her maturity that I still haven’t managed to fathom despite being almost a decade older than her character. That was terrifying to type. Jesus Christ. I couldn’t eat, sleep or go twenty minutes without scraping the internet for old interviews or watching fan-made youtube videos of Junie and Nemour’s tenderest moments with a shit song playing in the background, it was exhausting. Since peaking, my obsession has slowly begun to dissolve. I’ve stopped with my incessant searching. I’m no longer hungrily devouring the filmography of both main actors. I’m only wearing the winge on days I can’t be bothered to do my hair. It suits me surprisingly well and I don’t have to commit to actually cutting my hair and hoping against hope that my cow-lick doesn’t make a surprise visit to the party. You could say, I have now returned to being a sort of normal human being. This is until I find another film to obsess about and live vicariously through, of course.