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'3 Hearts' review: Marriage, affairs make for an intoxicating mix

Benoît Poelvoorde, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Chiara Mastroianni star

Benoît Poelvoorde, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Chiara Mastroianni star in "3 Hearts." Credit: Thierry Valletoux

The films of French director Benoît Jacquot have never really been about the war between the sexes. Just the uncivil conflicts. Whether he's dealing with the French Revolution ("Farewell, My Queen"), the Marquis de Sade ("Sade") or a hotel maid in 1990s Paris ("A Single Girl"), he likes to paint romance as a world of nuance, the emotional hiccup, and a game of blind man's bluff on a minefield.

"3 Hearts," which fits snugly into the Jacquot oeuvre and features startling performances by Chiara Mastroianni (the daughter of actors Marcello Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve) and Charlotte Gainsbourg, is no different. In what seems to be a clumsy pickup, Marc Beaulieu (Benoît Poelvoorde) has just met Sylvie Berger (Gainsbourg) on a sidewalk in Lyons when a small car races down the street, to no apparent purpose but disturbing the peace. The camera looks; the camera then turns back to the couple-in-progress. It's not the most subtle foreshadowing, but it is, like most signs of fate in a Jacquot movie, ignored by those who need to see it.

Marc and Sylvie will hit it off, leave each other in the morning and promise to meet Friday at 6. Six comes and goes. Seven comes, and Sylvie goes. Marc arrives, having suffered a fainting spell caused by his weak heart, and knows he's blown a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

As Jacquot knows, life goes on, and for Marc that includes another woman, Sophie (Mastroianni) who unbeknownst to anyone is Sylvie's sister. As innocent (and implausible) as the situation might be, love and envy are very close, and what Jacquot has fashioned isn't so much a coincidence of circumstance as it is one of passion: Marc and Sylvie, Marc and Sophie and even Sylvie and Sophie -- the closest of sisters -- are couples who share such an intensity of feeling that it eclipses the unlikely happenstance at the center of the film.

Over all of it is Jacquot the puppet master, who is blessed by having two actresses at his disposal who bring their own sense of fragility to a highly volatile scenario.

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