A man is the lead in 3 Hearts, the melodrama from director-writer and New Wave inheritor Benoît Jacquot (Farewell, My Queen). The director has the reputation of working well with women and focusing on their issues, and the feminist in all of us has gotten used to seeing the melodrama as a female province.
So this is refreshing. And the film is so unabashed in showing the place of passion in a bourgeois world, how a missed connection can screw up a life forever, that plot implausibilities are forgiven. Marc (Benoît Poelvoorde) is a tax inspector, oddly bumbling, even quixotic. Missing his train back to Paris, he’s stuck for the night in the tiny town of Valence, where he zeroes in on Sylvie (Charlotte Gainsbourg).
Eyes “exchange” in a sudden soul-mate match-up, and the two blissfully walk the streets and talk. They plan to meet at the Tuileries Gardens, where, in near-homage to An Affair to Remember, Sylvie feels betrayed at his no-show. How can she know of Marc’s sudden heart attack? Devastated, she decamps to America. Gainsbourg — intuitive, wispily evanescent but strong — is the movie’s pulsating impulse, even off-screen.
A usually serene Sophie (Chiara Mastroianni), bonded to her sister Sylvie, weeps too copiously when Sylvie goes. She does perk up after unwittingly hiring Marc for accounting help. He happens not to see the family photos lining the staircase, and they contentedly marry. But we wait with dread for the other shoe (sister) to drop (in). So what is Marc’s appeal? He’s the anti–Dominique Strauss-Kahn, tearing his heart apart at the loss of ecstasy.
A tapestry-like backdrop presents Catherine Deneuve as a soignée matriarch quietly joyful, not clashing with the main tragic if-only mood.