With its reputation as the “city of love,” it’s no surprise that Paris sets the stage for countless French romantic comedies. One of the latest additions to this list is “False Confessions,” the final film by the late director Luc Bondy. As its title suggests, this Parisian tale spins a web of lies, as a wealthy widow is manipulated by an enamored young man.
Starring in those lead roles as Araminte and Dorante are French cinema icon Isabelle Huppert and rising star Louis Garrel. Representing different levels of French society, they are brought together by Araminte’s manservant Dubois (Yves Jacques), who arranges for Dorante to be employed as Araminte’s secretary. Little does she know, this is all a ploy to win her affection and the improved status she can provide. But things get complicated, as Araminte’s friend and confidante Marton (Manon Combs) also becomes a target of the con. Meanwhile, Araminte’s mother (played by Bulle Ogier) starts to suspect Dorante’s intentions, as she hopes to wed her daughter to the older Comte Dorimont (Jean-Pierre Malo). The truth behind everyone’s master plans will inevitably be revealed however, as “False Confessions” devolves into a mad – and maddening – string of mindgames, all for the sake of love and petite bourgeois malaise.
With its roots in an 18th century play, Luc Bondy’s adaptation attempts to update “False Confessions” for the screen and a 21st century setting. But apart from modern accoutrements and a broader cinematic scale, the film still feels stuck in its stagebound past. Much of the action takes place in Araminte’s ritzy mansion, providing an ideal playground for romantic trysts. Despite the palatial hallways and staircases however, the script is largely confined to scenes where schemes are devised which do little more than complicate the plot unnecessarily.
The story gets marginally more interesting when the convoluted deceptions are actually set in motion. But still, the film fails to live up to its promise of scandal and melodrama. Though it purports to re-imagine the play for modern times, the film’s tone reflects a more conservative place and time. Love and betrayal is in the air, but the interactions lack tension, whether sexual or otherwise.
If there is one bright spark to the film however, it’s a smattering of strong performances. In particular, Isabelle Huppert is reliably compelling as Araminte, effectively conveying both the elation of love and the melancholy of heartbreak. Similarly, Manon Combs offers invaluable comic relief as the gullible Marton, delivering a playful performance that hints at what could have been. But ultimately, the contributions of these talented women (also including Bulle Olgier) do little to dissuade the disappointment in this forgettable story and the comparatively dull man (Louis Garrel) at the center of it all.
“False Confessions” opens in select theaters July 14.