Charlotte Gainsbourg and Benoît Poelvoorde in 3 Hearts. (Cohen Media Group)
Playing like an extended, euro-centric version of Richard Linklater’s “Before…” series, 3 Hearts explores what happened when the two strangers involved a classic romantic meet-cute actually follow through on their desires in the long term.
Directed by prodigious French helmer Benoit Jacquot (A Single Girl), Hearts follows Marc (Benoit Poelvoorde), a tax auditor who, while away in a small provincial French town, happens to meet the elegant antiquer Sylvie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) after missing his train back to Paris. The pair hit it off and fall into the traditional cutesy back-and-forth, feeling each other out and connecting on some exciting level. They make an agreement to meet up again that Friday at 6 p.m. However, on the designated day, Marc faints due to a heart condition and ends up accidentally missing their meeting—thereby giving up any hope of continuing the fateful romance.
Whereas Linklater chose to stage his three meditations on the power of chance encounters over the course of a single day, Benoit is more interested in the aftermath of such an event were it to go fatefully wrong. As life goes on for the would-be-lovers, they take decidedly different directions. Sylvie returns to her long-suffering husband and decides to move to America. Meanwhile, after meeting the beautiful Sophie (Chiara Mastroaianni) during a random audit, he falls head-over-heels in love and soon proposes marriage.
However, things become further complicated when it comes out that Sophie is, by some strange twist of fate, Sylvie’s sister! Soon thereafter, Sylvie leaves her husband and returns to France, ramping up the tension as we wait for her or Sophie to connect the dots, with no thanks due to to their poker-faced mother (the legendary Catherine Deneuve). With slow burn mastery, missed connections pile up, stoking the fire which we know will eventually explode when the truth finally comes to light.
If the conceit here is radically unrealistic (what are the odds that one man would meet two sisters independently through pure chance and fall in love with both of them?), it doesn’t make the emotions on display any less affecting. Jacquot’s kinetic visual style lends an almost action-film-esque energy to what could have easily been a stifled, dusty little trifle, raising the stakes and allowing the audience to really feel the discomfiting anxiety of love and loss.
In addition, all three leads deliver sterling performances, with special kudos due to the always reliable Poelvoorde, whose turn as Marc is equal parts retiring and raging, and Gainsbourg, who adds a few layers of warmth to her familiar icy reserve. Indeed, though it may seem a tired, falsified plot, Jacquot and his players elevate 3 Hearts into something much more—a gut punch disguised in a rosebud.
Cohen Media Group
Opens March 20th in select theaters.
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