The story in LOVE WITHOUT PITY, a French coming-of-age romance, is a familiar one, but it's told with unusual sensitivity and perceptiveness by writer-director Eric Rochant.
The romantic hero, Hippo (Hippolyte Girardot, who resembles a Gallic Emilio Estevez), is called a parasite at one point. The shoe fits, but he's an uncommonly likable leech. Hippo has structured his life around love. Or so he says. Sharing an apartment with his younger brother Xavier (Jean-Marie
Rollin), he's a bright dropout who doesn't work, living off of his parents and profits from his student brother's lucrative drug-dealing sideline. He does nothing much all day beyond making a few deliveries for his brother, reading the newspaper and, mostly, stalking new potential romantic
conquests. In fact, he lives off of women emotionally just as he lives off of his brother materially. He has an uncommon gift of gab which allows him to charm the ladies. But once he has what he wants, he moves on.
That all changes, of course, once he meets Nathalie (Mireille Perrier), a beautiful though hard-headed academic who works as a Russian translator and proves impervious to Hippo's attempts at seduction. It is she, rather, who takes the initiative and controls the relationship. Under her influence,
Hippo rants and rails. But he also suddenly starts acting responsibly, especially towards his brother, whom he starts warning about the dangers of drug-dealing and scolding for his manipulative treatment of his own girlfriend. But his maturing may be too little too late. Xavier winds up on the run
from the police for selling cocaine, and Hippo's relationship with Nathalie reaches a crisis when she's offered a visiting professorship in Boston. She can't convince Hippo to go with her and he can't convince her to stay.
They break up and Hippo briefly goes back to his old way with women only to find his heart is no longer in empty seduction. Feeling similarly empty, Nathalie once again takes the initiative, phoning Hippo to meet her the night before she is to depart. Hippo drops everything, including the
ex-girlfriend he has called for a date, to go to her side. But he is stopped by the police who take him into custody for driving a stolen car, his beat-up old jalopy which he had found abandoned and never properly registered. Nathalie leaves for Boston alone, unsure of what she will find when she
The cliche is that the French are wise in the ways of love. In the case of LOVE WITHOUT PITY it happens to be true. Rochant etches his lovers with care and allows their affair to develop as a complex, plausible mixture of passion, devotion, doubt and elective affinities. Each is incomplete with
the other. Hippo is intelligent and ambitious, but he wastes his capabilities with a willful irresponsibility. Nathalie is also intelligent and ambitious but too responsible, her life studiously devoid of spontaneity. They are, of course, fated to be together. But, as people do, they resist fate
and in that lies Rochant's interest, which makes LOVE WITHOUT PITY compelling despite its story as old as love itself.
In contrast to its pumped-up American equivalents, particularly films like Garry Marshall's PRETTY WOMAN and FRANKIE & JOHNNY, Rochant's approach is low-keyed and quietly realistic, making its moments of magic seem earned and therefore more magical. His Paris, for a change, looks and feels like a
place where people actually live on a day-to-day basis, a place, like any great city, filled with the excitement of unlimited possibilities. Yet it's a place where bread must be earned, rent must be paid and decisions made that affect the course of one's life. It's also a place where it's easy to
get into trouble, as it is in Xavier's subplot, which Rochant leaves unresolved.
But along with making Paris a living character in his tale, Rochant also has a strong eye for behavioral details in his characters and a strong cast to bring them to life. Girardot does bear a physical resemblance to Estevez, but that's where the resemblance ends. Unlike many of his American
big-star counterparts, Girardot is fully engaged in his role, bringing a real emotional zest to his performance and a genuine yearning that hints, without telegraphing, his change in character. Perrier meanwhile is a classic, finely detailed French beauty whose exquisite fragility is enlivened by
a sharp interior strength and intelligence. In short, she's a thinking man's sex symbol if ever there was one.
The richly individualized and able supporting cast follows suit, making LOVE WITHOUT PITY an unassuming, unpretentious and downright heartwarming gem of a romance. (Profanity, substance abuse, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: The story in LOVE WITHOUT PITY, a French coming-of-age romance, is a familiar one, but it's told with unusual sensitivity and perceptiveness by writer-director Eric Rochant. The romantic hero, Hippo (Hippolyte Girardot, who resembles a Gallic Emilio Este… (more)