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Eight year old Julien (Thibault Verhaeghe) is drawn to little immigrants' daughter Sophie (Josephine Lebas-Joly) as his mother lies dying, his father a distant figure of authority and rebuke, they begin playing a game of dare with each other, first as a childish but effective escape from their respectively troubled reality. Whoever has the tin box - a sentimental gift from Julien's mother, decorated with a merryground - has the call... As they grow up (Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard) the friendship grows and they invent ever-more extreme forms of dare. The relationship turns to a troubled, edgy romance, their dares still the narcotic of their lives, until Sophie calls it all off for 10 years. Their lives diverge, but deep down, they are welded together and when the 10 years is up, they dare to meet again - with amazing results.

Review by Louise Keller:
An audacious examination at the games we play in life and love, Love Me If You Dare is a biting romance that often intrigues, but more often frustrates. Intended to shock and jolt us, this is a dark-edged fable that probes into the psychological and fragility of our emotions. There are some interesting concepts and ideas realised by visually inventive cinematic devices, yet Yann Samuell's film seems intent to manipulate. The essence of Samuell's film could not be further from the joyous Oscar-nominated Amelie (to which some critics have compared it); this is a love story for cynics, canvassing the implausibility of emotional happiness.

There's a difference in the nuance in the original French title (Jeux d'enfants), but whichever you look at it, Love Me If You Dare is a disturbing film whose characters are not particularly likeable. These are people who get their thrills from doing nasty things. And the callousness of the subject matter disturbs - in the same kind of way Aaron Eckhard's character made our skin crawl in In The Company of Men. Superb performances by Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard keep us involved through the often incredible storyline, while the two children who portray Julien and Sophie as children are also excellent. Emotionally, the film left me detached; my only real connection was through the relationship between the young Julien and his dying mother, which delivered some heartbreaking moments.

The relationship between Sophie and Julien begins as simply as a connection, when they are drawn together by their separate emotional traumas. As an outsider (from Poland) Sophie is bullied at school, while Julien is traumatised by the impending death of his terminally ill mother. It's on this rough emotional quicksand, that the two children begin their escape from reality. The bond they forge is an emotional and dense one, and rebellious incidents such as urinating before the headmaster and wrecking a wedding are only the beginning. 'What will you be when you grow up?' Sophie asks Julien. To which he replies 'A tyrant.'

Samuell creates a claustrophobic emotional reality as childish pranks escalate into dares of devastating consequences. The games accelerate in voracity and the players become insatiable. It becomes a matter of how far they can (and will) go. What is the ultimate dare and will Sophie and Julien dare to be dared.

It is hard to miss the irony in Samuell's repeated use of La Vie En Rose, although by the time we have heard four different versions played again and again, it begins to irritate. It bothered me also that the pivotal token symbolising who is being dared - a tin toy merry-go-round - is indestructible and conveniently always at hand, even after being run over by cars, speeding trains and the like.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Yann Samuel explains that once the basic idea came to him, the script poured out in a day. "What emerged in the end is part ultra-modern cartoon fairy tale, part bold psychological probe into the games we play in life and love." That's just about how the film plays, a fantasy riff on the notion of romantic love being an absolute power over each other.

The film succeeds in holding our attention by the sheer force of the performances, which overcome the inherently distancing elements of the concept. The characters, for example, are only sympathetic some of the time; much of the time their actions seem stupid or vicious. Julian's mother is killed off for no other reason than to serve the interests of the script, and his father is written as a nasty oaf.

Sophie's family situation is painted only sketchily, but clearly to suggest she is ashamed of them - made so by the taunting of her young peers at school for being a wog (as it would be in the Australian equivalent).

So we get the message that they are both unhappy at home, seeking escape. The game of dare becomes central to their lives, each new dare riskier than the last. In one dare, at a traumatic moment in their relationship, Sophie stands blindfolded on traintracks in front of an approaching train, only vaguely aware of the danger. Julien himself does nothing to try and save her. But there are funny dares, too, especially in their childhood. Peeing in front of the school principal, pulling down the tablecloth at a wedding together with the cake....

The film's resolution leaves us in two minds: no wonder - it's like two endings. And what resonates after the end credits is a feeling of the brittleness of love, not so much its healing or lifegiving powers.

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(Jeux d'enfants)

CAST: Guillaume Canet, Marion Cotillard, Thibault Verhaeghe, Jospehine Lebas-Joly, Gerard Watkins, Emmanuelle Gronvold, Laetiziz Venezia, Gilles Lelouche, Robert Willar, Nathalie Natter

PRODUCER: Christoph Rossignon

DIRECTOR: Yann Samuell

SCRIPT: Jackie Cukier, Yann Samuell


EDITOR: Andrea Sedlackova

MUSIC: Philippe Rombi

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jean-Michel Simonet

RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 9, 2004


VIDEO RELEASE: January 13, 2005

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