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Jeanne and the Perfect Guy

Review by Eddie Cockrell
Posted 7 May 1999

  Directed by Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau

Starring Virginie Ledoyen, Mathieu Demy,
Jacques Bonnaffe, Valerie Bonneton,
and Frederic Gorny

Screenplay by Jacques Martineau

Music by Philippe Miller,
Lyrics by Jacques Martineau

A modern-day attempt to capture the magic of Hollywood musicals in general and the spirit of Jacques Demy’s twin flights of fancy The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort in particular, this unique item adds a strong dollop of social activism to the lyrical premise and features a tough yet vulnerable performance from the magical Virginie Ledoyen (seen briefly in the Merchant-Ivory A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries and Leonardo DiCaprio’s love interest in the upcoming The Beach). Yet for all its obvious sincerity and genuine guile, the magic of Jeanne and the Perfect Guy remains just out of reach, a goal as tantalizing yet elusive as the idea of a perfect love unblemished by the cruel realities of day-to-day life.

A free-spirited and cheeerfully promiscuous young Parisian given to alternating bouts of girlishness and snobbishness, Jeanne (Ledoyen) is a receptionist at the Jet Tour travel agency. An equal opportunity lover, Jeanne’s involved in affairs with both conceited agency executive Jean-Baptiste and a lowly delivery boy -- both of whom, of course, are far more lovestruck than she is.

One day Jeanne meets Olivier (Mathieu Demy) on a subway car. Smitten, the make love on the empty train, but this time there’s a difference: Jeanne just knows that Olivier is the perfect guy. When they meet again later (outside a sold-out screening of -- what else -- Springtime in Paris), Olivier reveals that a past drug addiction has left him HIV positive. "We used a condom, didn’t we?" says Jeanne by way of acceptance. Yet when Olivier disappears after being discharged from the hospital following a collapse, Jeanne must learn to go on without him

Much of the film is set against the backdrop of city-wide Act-Up demonstrations, with activist Francois (Jacques Bonnaffe) serving as a mysterious link between the lovers.

What the movie does best is duplicate the mid-1960s architecture and space of the Demy films and vintage Jacques Tati, so that in the early reels when passersby and extras begin to glide into step for impromptu musical numbers in the buildings and streets of Paris, the effect is genuinely magical. Fine too is a scene in which the lovers sing to each other nude on a bed, a sequence as bold as it is jarring (would Demy ever have done a similar shot?).

Also noteworthy are the subjects of the songs themselves, which include not only the dual themes of love and disease, but a tuneful lament by immigrant custodians in the building which houses the travel agency and even an ode to Tsing-Tao beer tossed off while Jeanne lunches.

There are, in fact, some strong connections to Demy’s work. His son Mathieu’s performance as Olivier is touching without being particularly deep, while co-director Olivier Ducastel was the sound editor on Trois places pour le 26 (1989), Demy’s final feature (Jeanne marks the classically trained Jacques Martineau’s first foray into film). "I’m wild about Demy’s films," Duscatel says in this movie’s presskit. "Though I appreciate American musicals, sometimes they bore me a little, perhaps because their primary goal is sheer entertainment. One can sing about tragedy in opera, why not in musicals?"

"Think before you act," admonishes a pensioner during the course of this eccentric movie, and that throwaway line may sum up the uneasy and ultimately cold reality of Jeanne and the Perfect Guy: in a world capable of producing that deadly virus, the strength to sing and dance in the face of the epidemic takes more energy than some mortals possess.

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