A film of casually assured artistry and superficial topicality, Noémie Merlant’s feature debut Mi Iubita, Mon Amour is something of an archetypal French festival entry, albeit one that occasionally transcends its foundational triteness. Merlant, who also stars, balances the remarkable self-possession she maintained in Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire with other actorly indulgences that make the overarching bachelorette-party-abroad environment feel only fitfully lived in. In Romania for the pre-nuptials lost weekend, Merlant’s 27-year-old Jeanne and her three friends find their trip off to a rocky start when their car is pinched from a roadside gas station. Falling in with the family and friends of the 17-year-old Nino (Gimi-Nicole Covaci), the quartet’s touristic vacation plans evolve into something more hardscrabble. French complacency and inexcusable microaggressions are suddenly rubbing up against otherwise quotidian occurrences, like a lack of hot water, or more intensive-than-usual methods of fishing.
Romance blooms between the bride-to-be and her impromptu host, despite the 10 year age difference. The dalliance is given an inevitable timestamp, although that doesn’t dispel the sultry atmosphere, redolent with desire, and bolstered by the necessary intimacy of their newfound circumstances. Merlant favors the same sort of sensual tactility that’s so often linked to Sciamma or Claire Denis (although Mi Iubita, Mon Amour, if anything, recasts Valeska Grisebach’s Western as a romance), and more often than not, she makes good on yet another belabored trope of contemporary cinema, especially in a nightclub scene that’s remarkably earthbound despite the camera carving up the space to the sounds of David Guetta and Sia’s inescapable “Titanium.” When the film devolves into aphorisms, it’s difficult not to pine for some of the more wordless sequences that play with single light sources and emotionally symbolic reflections. Merlant herself bids adieu with tearful restraint à la Portrait of a Lady on Fire or Call Me By Your Name, in a move whose simultaneous appropriateness and lack of uniqueness sums up Mi Iubita as a whole.
Published as part of Cannes Film Festival 2021 — Dispatch 4.