When his minor art-house hit Red Lights helped Cedric Kahn finally emerge from the festival ghetto, his next move was to make a family movie…about a man who turns into a plane. Following that puzzling left turn, Regrets—an adultery melodrama that constantly teases you with fatal consequences—seems closer to familiar territory. But it’s inexplicably turgid and predictable, the kind of movie in which the only reason someone walking to their parked car is so that they can spot an ex-lover on the street; adultery comes right on schedule.
That’s what happens when Mathieu (Yvan Attal) returns home to attend to his dying mother. His ex, Maya (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi), on whom he walked out years ago, is now married to terrifying, drunken lout Franck (Philippe Katerine), who shows Mathieu his incomprehensible architectural sketches at dinner and briefly threatens to spark the movie to life: He seems to be aware of more than he lets on. Alas, Franck butts out until it’s time for him to show up wielding a chainsaw, which apparently isn’t meant to be funny.
In the meantime, it’s all down to Mathieu and Maya, who spend the movie going through the endlessly mercurial motions of remorse and reunion, ad infinitum. Eventually, Mathieu grows quite deranged and downright stalker-ish, chasing Maya into a pharmacy and yelling, “I’m not crazy. It’s just that she’s driving me crazy.” (Wrong answer.)
If the movie has any point at all, it’d seemingly be to demonstrate the infantility of such grand, misplaced masculine passions when grafted onto long-lost partners (much as in, say, Hong Sang-soo’s recent Like You Know It All, only without the grace or wit). And Regrets, though ceaselessly grating, seems to be trending this way when it cuts from an extreme close-up of Attal’s face (he’s like a whiny Jarvis Cocker without the self-lacerating bon mots) to a baby’s; it’s hard to tell who’s more childish. Alas, the ending lets everyone off the hook, undercutting any potential point to all the unpleasantness.
It’s entirely possible no one would care about The Thorn in the Heart if it weren’t made by Michel Gondry; indeed, no one but those already invested in his work (and at least trying to keep up with the sheer volume of his output) should approach it. If you’re a fan, though, there’s much to enjoy here. The doses of whimsy are brief but lovely (at one point, Gondry gives a class of elementary schoolers “invisibility cloaks” and lets them run around while Charlotte Gainsbourg coos), but the bulk of the film soaks in the texture of provincial life.
The core of the film—very gradually zoomed in on—is the relationship between Gondry’s Aunt Suzette and gay son Jean-Yves, a mutually recriminatory affair. That Gondry gets both of them to open up and cry on camera comes after a lot of context and feels hard-earned rather than exploitative (something validated by the family after they watch what’s presumably a near-final cut); he’s using the documentary to try to induce catharsis, and almost succeeds. It’s enlightening, too, to see everyone’s favorite celebrity music video director cool his heels in the decidedly uncool area of his childhood, explaining obliquely how he got from there to here. It’s a small but lovely film; if nothing else, it might suggest one reason why Gondry smuggled (unnoticed by nearly all) a supportive gay relationship into Be Kind Rewind.
Regrets will play on March 13 and 14 and A Thorn in My Heart on March 15 as part of this year’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series. To purchase tickets, click here.