SFIFF54: ‘Living on Love Alone’ is a lightly tragic cautionary tale

Pio Marmai and Anaïs Demoustier portray a young couple desperate to escape the pressures of Parisian life in Isabelle Czajka's second feature 'Living on Love Alone' ('D'amour et d'eau fraîche').

When life gets tough and running away seems like the only option, it’s understandable to have that feeling and make it a reality. But Living on Love Alone (D’amour et d’eau frîache) proves that even in the movies, the idea isn’t so romantic, so you are cautioned to think twice.

Directed by Isabelle Czajka, her film about “work, youth, and love” (As she introduced at the screening at New People on Wednesday evening) follows the trials and tribulations of a pretty 23-year-old woman named Julie (Anaïs Demoustier). She lives on her own in a little flat in Paris and makes time to occasionally visit her divorced parents, but she’s too broke to manage her independent lifestyle. Her attempts to hold down a job fail (We see her working in a PR agency, in book sales, and for a photo processing center), leading her to engage in sexual recklessness. Unemployed, uncaring, and lonely by the time she falls for the young, charming, and just-as-carefree Ben (Pio Marmai), she takes up on his invitation on an escape to southern France. However, their travels take a dark turn as a risky misadventure when Ben’s true self is revealed.

Demoustier is a very convincing actress and makes her character believable, and for some young people (And even some older people), it’s easy to relate to Julie. Of course, not everyone will choose to channel their frustrations through casual sex or being candid about their work-related issues with a colleague (Which does lead to sex in one case). However, the struggles of finding and keeping a stable job and feelings of low self-worth due to bad luck (And eventually, choices) in both career paths and in love are real. That’s where Czajka succeeds in this picture, in bringing that truth. Julie’s tense interactions with her family, as shown in a dramatic scene with her mother, older brother, and his wife and son at lunch, further show the immense outside pressure she feels and possibly contributed to her unforeseen downward spiral.

On the other hand, the developing relationship between Julie and Ben, which is supposed to be the backbone of the film, becomes easily disposable by the end. After Julie’s escapades with skeevy men, Ben’s presence is more than welcoming. There’s an overwhelming feeling that he’s perfect for her, and could possibly be the curly-coiffed and bearded knight in shining armor to rescue her from all her troubles. And maybe he does—for a little while. But then one may come to the realization that the two weren’t necessarily in love and instead, only in love with the idea of it. When that revelation is made, you might actually start to dislike Ben for leading Julie on, and also dislike Julie for making horrible, impulsive choices.

But although the romantic idealism in Living on Love Alone becomes and goes out as a poof (It could have been so easily avoided if only Julie thought more clearly and if Ben was more honest with her), perhaps it does achieve something else: by delivering yet another cold and hardened truth that everything isn’t as romantic as it seems and bad things happen. Love should also be built on trust and that is sadly absent from this film. It doesn’t show that love is all you may need to survive: Jobless or not, you’ll also need a good head on your shoulders.

OVERALL: 7/10

‘Living on Love Alone’ will have its next showing at the Pacific Film Archive at Berkeley on Friday, April 29th at 9PM.

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