Review: You Deserve a Lover
by Kaleem Aftab
- CANNES 2019: Hafsia Herzi proves to be just as good at directing as she is at acting with her sexy debut feature
Director Hafsia Herzi broke into the film industry as an actress, starring in Abdellatif Kechiche’s The Secret of the Grain [+see also:
interview: Hafsia Herzi
film profile]. For that movie, she won the Marcello Mastroianni Award at the Venice Film Festival and the César Award for Best Female Newcomer in 2008. She may make just as good an impression in the directing world, as her directorial debut, You Deserve a Lover [+see also:
interview: Hafsia Herzi
film profile], which is playing in the Critics’ Week at the Cannes Film Festival, is a poetic rumination on being young, beautiful and single.
The director herself plays the leading lady, Lila. We meet the protagonist at a low point in her life, as she has just discovered that her boyfriend Rémi has cheated on her. While away in Bolivia, he downloaded a dating app and slept with prostitutes. Newly single, Lila reacts by immersing herself in her group of best friends, who provide advice – both good and bad – on how she should bounce back.
The film takes the form of a series of encounters with potential suitors and hook-ups – mostly the latter – some of which happen by chance while others are the result of meetings set up on the internet or blind dates. These dates provide some great comic interludes, especially the over-confident man who doesn’t think dating apps are for love, and the self-interested dude who only talks about himself. Lila amuses these men because she is not sure what she wants. Does she want Rémi back? Does she want to move on? Everywhere Lila goes, there is a guy, or occasionally a girl, waiting to chat her up, using lines such as, “Are you Asian?” In this state of flux, Lila, who comes across as quite timid, is now open to all kinds of adventures, agreeing to be photographed by the local café owner’s nephew, and even being coaxed into a ménage à trois (well, it is a French film after all).
What is remarkable about the movie is that Herzi takes a set-up that could have come from any early Woody Allen film, or Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It, and gives it a female gaze. It is one that is incredibly sexy and heartfelt, and despite all the various encounters, it never feels lurid. Herzi is interested in how people chat to each other when they are trying to bed someone. This runs the gamut from these suitors giving her flowers and reading her poems to just straight out asking for sex. For the most part, the dialogue feels real, and Herzi’s own performance as Lila is mesmerising.
The film is a character study, and there is little in the way of plot. Indeed, the attempts at pushing dramatic tension are the moments when the film falls flat. Her ex-boyfriend Rémi keeps returning and trying to win her back, and at these points, the action starts to feel a tad forced and melodramatic.
In terms of the mise-en-scène, Herzi is definitely influenced by Kechiche. Most of the shots are medium close-ups, and there are pivotal moments revolving around food. The aesthetic of the film and the sense of intimacy it creates are also straight out of the Kechiche playbook, and that’s high praise indeed for anyone making inroads into directing.
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