HOW MUCH DO YOU LOVE ME?
One night in Pigalle, the balding Francois (Bernard Campan) walks in to a small shopfront brothel-bar to make a stupendous proposition to the voluptuous woman under a fur coat who is decorating the bar stool in the window, Daniela (Monica Bellucci). He's just won millions of Euros on the lottery and wants her to live with him - at a price - until his money runs out. Daniela accepts, but his heart condition flares up and he calls his friend, the doctor (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) who warns him about over exerting himself - especially with this sex bomb. But Francois' heart troubles have only just begun, as Daniela's presence - not to mention the presence of her tough nut boyfriend/husband/owner Charly (Gerard Depardieu) - brings all sorts of trials and tribulations, complications and about turns.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Famous French director Bertrand Blier makes a cameo appearance in this film as a departing client of young prostitute Muguet (Sarah Forestier) in the shop-front brothel and bar where Daniela (Monica Bellucci) works. Muguet's character in this small role tries to waltz off with Francois, after Daniela has left him and returned to her bar stool in the window. My brain clicked into overdrive as I tried to decipher the symbolism of this cameo. Did Blier's visit to the brothel have a meaning? Like: he's paying off French cinematic whores who make movies in which women are portrayed in a variety of stereotypes, not least whore, but always beautiful? Is French cinema so besotted with and blinded by beautiful women on the screen that it loses its pants at the drop of a hat - if I can mix my apparel metaphors?
The film does this to you, because it begins like a typical French anti-romantic love story, burns into overdrive with complicated relationships that range from neighbours to partners to strangers, always doused in feverish sex. As the film progresses, held aloft by the push up bras of Monica Bellucci's body in various bedrooms and in varying degrees of undress, it begins to play like a twisted, sly and savage satire on French cinema. The cinema that hovers over women's bodies, making them out to be either more or less than they really are; sluts in a nun's habit. Blier grows bolder (or is it more desperate in a search for an ending) as the film takes a surreal turn, all the while returning to its main theme: Bellucci's breasts.
Reedy alto sax cues alternate with snatches of grand(iose) opera (a lot of Verdi, some Bellini and spicy bits of Puccini, including Tosca) all used as if to mock the film's progress, inserted sometimes with a sudden blast of extra lighting. These devices keep us on edge, while trying to follow the melodrama whipped up to operatic proportions, changing tones and perspectives.
There are moments to enjoy, a few to laugh at; but there is no heart, for all the talk of love and all the symbolism about hearts, just a series of scenes that fight against each other as the filmmakers wrestle with material that defies their talents. Watching Bertrand Blier in such creative turmoil is not that much fun.
Review by Louise Keller:
Jazz and opera, lust and love, tenderness and passion, life and death..... Impossible to define, How Much Do You Love Me is an unfathomable film on many levels. It starts with a breathy saxophone solo whose vibrato breaks your heart, as a balding man peers into a brightly illuminated window and sees an impossibly beautiful woman. He desires her - absolutely. He finds a way to have his way with her. But how can he possess her? Provocative, alluring and baffling, Bernard Blier's film is more drama than comedy, more obtuse than the obvious. A man with a weak heart, a voluptuous woman who can be bought, a gangster, a doctor not immune to attractive women, a neighbour with set ideals about orgasms.....They're a curious mix of characters. The French title is curious too, by its use of the word 'combien' implying 'how much' as opposed to 'how'.
The first half of the film grabs our attention. When Bernard Campan's vulnerable Francois makes his approach to Monica Bellucci's stunning Daniela at a bar in Pigalle, we are mesmerized. A proposition is negotiated - but it is not really about money. It is not until she has moved in with him that names are exchanged. 'Love really suits you,' she tells him, as their relationship makes him stronger and stronger.
As circumstances and events become totally bizarre, we find ourselves being thrust in a whirlwind of confusion. Open to all kinds of interpretation, the film keeps its distance, despite the intimacy of its players. Bellucci spends the entire film in various modes of undress - the scenes when she is clothed are perhaps more sensual than when she is not. We gaze, gawk, marvel at her beauty. Just like all the characters. Much of film's impact rests with the casting - Campan's bewildered Francois, Bellucci's dazzing bombshell, Jean-Pierre Darroussin's nervous Andre and Depardieu's hard-nosed Charly.
There is no predictable emotional curve, no easy storyline for us to cling to. It's all at once confusing, bewitching and often irritating. Some may be inspired.
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HOW MUCH DO YOU LOVE ME? (MA)
Combien tu m'aimes?
CAST: Monica Bellucci, Bernard Campan, Gerard Depardieu, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Farida Rahouadj, Sara Forestier, Michel Vuillermoz, Francois Rollin, Eduard Baer
PRODUCER: Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier
DIRECTOR: Bertrand Blier
SCRIPT: Bertrand Blier
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Francois Catonne
EDITOR: Marion Monestier
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Francois de Lamothe
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 13, 2006