All Our Desires ( Toutes nos envies ), which closes the 15th annual Cinefranco Film Festival, is a pathos-laden film. As you follow its interweaving, emotionally taxing subplots, however, you might wonder what’s beyond the pathos.
Claire Conti (played by Marie Gillain) is young and attractive. A judge by profession, she is happily married and a mother. Her handsome husband, Christophe (Yannick Renier), works as a chef and loves her very much. Life looks ideal. One day, Claire is picking up her little girl from school. Another mother, named Celine, comes up to her, asking if she had given her daughter money for a field trip. Claire confirms, and so Celine returns Claire’s money, claiming that she does not need charity. In an ironic twist, the next day Celine faces Claire’s judgment in court; she works part-time as a cashier, is single, and can’t pay her 18000 Euro debt. Claire defers the case, buying Celine some time. At this point, since Claire had done her a favour and their daughters are friends, Celine befriends Claire.
The case sticks in Claire’s heart. She sets up a meeting with a handsome judge named StÃ©phane (Vincent Lindon) who’s a debt expert, asking him for his help. Disillusioned by the system but intrigued by the case ““ and obviously by Claire ““ StÃ©phane reluctantly agrees.
And boom: we’re in a courtroom drama film. Two attractive, idealistic lawyers fighting Big Credit. That could be a satisfying genre film unto itself, as it so often is. But that’s not enough for All Our Desires. Somewhere in between this action (quite early on in the film), Claire is diagnosed with brain cancer and told she has only months to live. Thus, the film’s duo of plots begins, offering the audience two kinds of drama: exciting suspense and pathos from the little guy conquering the seemingly invincible enemy – and devastating tragedy and pathos from a premature death.
All Our Desires is technically sound. Director Philippe Lioret puts together a well-told, nicely shot film. And on the surface, if you don’t really think that hard, the film is dramatically coherent. The story makes enough sense, there’s a strongly-paced beginning, middle and end with just enough ambiguity and that “˜slice of life’ quality. But I have a hard time figuring out what these two story lines are doing together, other than to ramp up the pathos to an unbearable degree.
Perhaps that’s arguable. Such heaviness might have been manageable. However, on top of our main issues, brain cancer and crippling debt, Claire’s husband also becomes jealous of her nascent romantic partnership with StÃ©phane. Why, I ask, does this sub-plot exist? Very little, beyond sexy intrigue, is added by Claire and StÃ©phane’s closeness. It seems like cheap drama, then, when Christophe confronts StÃ©phane at the hospital. Christophe’s jealousy, which seizes him at the end of his wife’s life, isn’t explored at all, making it feel tacked on and melodramatic.
Despite unrelenting moodiness, All Our Desires will keep you entertained, if not bogged down. After all, it’s French, it’s shot in an attractive spring morning colour hue and the actors are all easy on the eyes and decent at what they do. But if you want to watch films which examine life deeply and perceptively, instead of languishing in melodrama, I might go see something else.
All Our Desires plays on Sunday, April 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox. Check the CinÃ©franco website for showtimes and tickets.