A deceptive airiness courses through No Love Lost, the sophomore feature from Erwan Le Duc — which follows his equally quaint and whimsical The Bare Necessity (2019). That earlier film, which was stylistically memorable for its eccentric cast and bucolic images, chronicled the unlikely romance between the police chief of a sleepy French town and his free-spirited carjacking victim. Both Pierre (the chief, played by Swann Arlaud) and Juliette (Maud Wyler) were oddballs nestled within an equally idiosyncratic wider ecosystem whose assortment of exotica — World War II reenactors, nudist colonies, a lonely hearts radio show — helped embellish the film’s loose sensibilities, a riff on Wes Anderson that was more authentically Gallic than The French Dispatch could hope to be.
With No Love Lost, Le Duc retains this looseness of style, but his principal concerns have taken a more somber turn. The film’s central conceit is of loss so sudden and irreversible that it affords no explanation and leaves a lifetime of self-doubt in its wake. In place of Arlaud’s doe-eyed physiognomy comes Nahuel Pérez-Biscayart, as Étienne, a young and aspiring footballer who falls for Valérie (Mercedes Dassy), a feisty climate protestor. Their elopement and whirlwind romance are consecrated in the film’s first ten minutes or so, frenetically cut and assembled as a montage of kisses, gazes, and Parisian boulevards. Drunk on its initial vitality, No Love Lost quickly sobers up when, after the birth of the couple’s daughter, Rosa, Valérie drops her off at Étienne’s and drives away, never to come back. Étienne, remarkably, doesn’t quite stumble through the fallout as he raises Rosa with dogged determination, even as his eyes nurse that same unquiet melancholy fifteen years later.
The elements of parody are less prominent in No Love Lost, despite their prevailing signature in the quirky, laidback world of its characters. Once a lanky heartthrob, Étienne now works as a provincial coach for a periodically losing football team, shouting quasi-intellectual words of encouragement on the pitch as he elsewhere struggles to stave off his obsolescence. Rosa (Céleste Brunnquell), now a typical teenager with typical teenage woes, contends with leaving her childhood home, her father, and perhaps even her boyfriend, Youssef (Mohammed Louridi), as she heads off to art college. But she’s most worried about the void in Étienne’s heart, which she suspects even she and his new flame, Hélène (The Bare Necessity’s Wyler), can’t quite fill. Her suspicions come true one evening when Étienne glances over at the television only to glimpse Valérie in a surfing report. A ghost haunting the coast of Portugal and the pixels in Étienne’s hazy memory, Valérie marks the crucial absence which tinges the frames of the living, and her reemergence brings back all the bitterness and crippling silence of lovers lost to scorn.
Frustratingly for some, No Love Lost indulges neither in overt sentimentality nor in insulating its slapstick world from sympathy. The result, then, is a drawn-out negotiation of rules and responsibilities for everyone, especially the jovial yet fragile single father, who’s yet to settle the many affairs of his heart. But while this languid pacing does result in the film’s predictable finale, it doesn’t detract from establishing a curiously contrapuntal rhythm to the stereotypical melodrama that many a French production has retained in silent bondage to the dramedy’s realist conventions. Especially refreshing is Biscayart’s screen presence — even if it’s also sometimes exaggerated. The actor makes for a dynamic lead, seamlessly conveying both levity and sadness, and convincingly passing himself off for less than half of his age thanks to his boyish features. Like Le Duc’s misleadingly palatable aesthetic, this simple feature belies a poignant truth about love: sometimes, not having it is better than having loved but not quite lost; or, a quick death is preferable to a slow, stunted life in decay.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 22.