Two films Directed by Patrice Leconte go Blu



Never distributed to screens in the U.S., two films from the early 2000s by then-popular French art house auteur Patrice Leconte (Girl on the Bridge) have finally made their way stateside.  The films- 2001’s absorbing and, for some, confounding love story Felix and Lola and 2002’s dry but straightforward mid-century story of a streetwalker looking to get out, Love Street– will always be considered minor Leconte.  For those looking to get into semi-contemporary World Cinema deeper cuts, however, they are valid curiosities.

Both films represent pivots for Leconte, not simply in terms of a downgrade in his established international reach at the time.  They also represent shifts in his classical style, particularly the first of the pair, the oft handheld and rambunctious Felix and Lola.  Love Street, though racier in subject matter, remains ever polite and never unclothed.  (Such modesty despite a quite racy cover image…!) This overdue double feature leads with the stronger film, though those looking for Leconte’s more typical approach will be interested in the second (along with its audio commentary track).  What follows are individual considerations of both films.

Felix and Lola

Better than anyone else, the French seem to understand that one of the greatest pleasures of seeing movies is their enablement to freely watch other people.  In 2001’s angsty and vibey romance Felix and Lola (Félix et Lola), Leconte has us watching people who are constantly watching other people. Sometimes, those people are watching other people.  And wondering they’re shagging.  (That’s employing the film’s translation of choice)

Felix and Lola does get started with a bang, insofar as one character shoots another.  A singer who’s performing on a small stage in a club, is abruptly gunned down mid-song.  The rest of the film demonstrates how things got to that point.  We meet the ruggedly handsome Felix (Philippe Torreton), a carny who lives in an R.V. and operates the popular dodge’em cars ride.  His is a noisy world of bright chipped paint with new paint painted over that, and perpetual blinking tungsten light bulbs blending with the glow of green and pink neon.  That lighting that casts itself somewhere between sexy and sickly, thankfully treating our high-cheekboned leads as the former.  All the better for him to become fixated upon Lola (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a brunette loner with a mysterious air.

Lola, we come to find out, is no manic pixie dream girl, although she embodies all of those qualities at different times.  Felix has fallen hard for her, and consequently winds up with her on the rollercoaster of love- literally and figuratively.  His co-workers are all rooting for him.   The fortune teller gets a bead on what he should look out for.  His friend in an ape suit advises him that he’s being “a bit of a bear”.  But a strange guy who keeps giving Lola harmonicas is always hanging around the bumper cars.  Felix decides that obviously he’s a problem in need of a knuckle sandwich.  But will that be enough of a violent display of affection to satisfy Lola?

While Felix and Lola definitely make for an odd couple (the kind that shag), it’s no surprise that this feature never went to series.  Though Leconte does an admirable job of keeping things taut and rife with possibilities, the final wrap-up leaves a bit to be desired.  One can’t be blamed for souring in the eleventh hour to this otherwise visually rich and absorbing mystery.  The film’s got no shortage of passion in its dramatic flair, even as it makes the point that love is no carnival.

Love Street

For his follow-up effort, Leconte took it to the street.  Specifically, Love Street (Rue des plaisirs).  While linguistic purists might disparage the use of “love” to describe this particular street, most people would quickly gather why it’s been dubbed thusly.  This is where lonely men go for temporary company of the feminine variety.  Three of the ignored and neglected women of the night gather under an overhang.  On a cold and rainy French night such as this, all the johns just want to get home.  Business isn’t just bad, it’s nonexistent.  As the futility of their evening’s hustling sinks in, so do musings upon what they’re doing with their lives.  For people like them, is there ever a way out?

For one, there was.  Most of Love Street is her story.  It starts, though, with a fella.  Years earlier, we witness the brothel-birth of Petit Louis (Patrick Timsit).  Louis, growing up in the posh cat-house, was beloved by all the ladies as he helped out with things like cleaning and meals.  Louis, we’re told, had “many mothers”, and lived happily among them.  That is, until the fateful day in 1948 when all the brothels in France were mandated to permanently shutdown.  All the girls had to take to the streets, scattered to the winds.

The bulk of Love Street centers on the selfless Louis pining in vain for Marion (international supermodel Laetitia Casta), a particularly striking girl from the brothel.  Per the bleak through line of the story, happiness eludes her- even when she hooks up with Dmitri (Vincent Elbez), a man who finally makes her smile.  Louis, though, sticks with her.  This, though, is no Jules et Jim situation.  Louis really is a third wheel, except for the fact that he remains Marion’s true encourager and caretaker.  He is resigned to be her platonic soulmate.  It’s because of Louis that she pursues her dream of being a big-time singer.  But Dmitri’s accrued gambling debts put dangerous wrinkles in things…

While Patrick Timsit gives a fully committed performance as Louis- his selfless central character exudes a tender unrequited longing- the whole of Love Street fails to take us anywhere resonantly interesting.  


As released to Blu-ray through Kino Lorber, Cohen Film Collection’s single disc release of these back-to-back Patrice Leconte titles demonstrate solid visual luster.  Both films are in French with English subtitles, and feature an optional audio commentary by Wade Major, who is producer/host of the DigiGods podcast, film critic for and KPCC FilmWeek.  Major, out of the gate on his Felix and Lola track, proves his expertise in terms of French cinema of this era, and Leconte’s output in particular.  He explains that although the filmmaker was in the middle of a popularity surge in foreign markets, these films were deemed “too French” for, say, the American art house circuit.  

Major’s approach is an articulate blend of analysis, facts about the creatives and the films’ release histories, and yes, some narration of what’s happening on screen.  He’s obviously the right historian for the job, though after a very impressive first twenty minutes of the first film, there are occasional lulls.  Still, Major is a very skilled film commentator; easy to listen to and learn from.  Finally, the disc offers several trailers for Felix and Lola and one for Love Street.

Though Felix and Lola and Love Street were made subsequently by the same major director, their pairing here nonetheless defy a film critic’s inherent instinct to connect whatever thematic and plot-centric dots that can be spotted.  (Both films feature scene with fortune tellers.  Is that enough of a connection?). These are simply two movies made in close proximity by Patrice Leconte.  Don’t expect brilliance, though both (particularly Felix and Lola) offer occasional dollops of individual radiance.