Abruptly non-linear narrative makes a convoluted mess of 'Alice and Martin's' unusual love story
Handsome, stormy Alexis Lorent gives a memorable performance in his screen debut as the Martin half of "Alice and Martin," a bipolar young man haunted by guilt over the death of his callous father, and forever flighty from a hard childhood under dad's stern hand.
Juliette Binoche ("The English Patient") is also affecting as Alice, an inhibited and financially strapped violinist and Martin's slightly older lover who tries to quell his tortured psyche.
But this awkward drama about romance, estrangement and what people are willing to do for love is such a structural mess that it's impossible to get lost in the strength of the performances because you're too busy trying to keep up with the entangled narrative.
Co-written and directed by André Téchiné ("Thieves"), the film follows the unlikely affair between this disturbed, tempestuous youth and the nurturing woman he meets when he runs away to Paris after his father's demise, landing on the doorstep of his half-brother (Mathieu Amalric), who is Alice's gay roommate (although the movie illogically lets you believe they're lovers for a while).
The storytelling is abruptly non-linear, lurching forward and jerking back in time without warning or explanation -- leaving the viewer (or at least this viewer) entirely distracted by the thought that the film's reels must be out of sequence. But in fact, Téchiné has edited the film this way on purpose. What that purpose is, I couldn't venture to guess.
Alice and Martin meet, then suddenly it's 10 days later and we're supposed to understand that mood-swinging Martin is in love and incapable of expressing himself. Meanwhile, he's been spotted by a modeling agency and soon begins to see his own face all over Paris.
Then Bang! Martin declares his love to Alice completely out of the blue. She's taken aback and a bit unreceptive. Then Bang! Without any indication that more than a few days have gone by, they're living together in some very fancy digs, Martin is a top model and his brother is jealous because he's made it after "only a year" in Paris.
Téchiné continues to change gears and directions unexpectedly throughout the movie, following Martin and Alice to the coast of Spain, where he abandons a modeling assignment and goes loco while she struggles in frustration to understand him and announces that she's pregnant.
Bang, again! Out of nowhere, Martin is suddenly in a factory in some French village with his father and a bunch of men we've never seen before. It's a flashback and these are all Martin's half-brothers, but Téchiné gives us no way to know that until we see the accident that killed his dad, which would have taken place, chronologically, in the moments before the film's first scene.
The last act of the movie is spent with Alice in this same village in the present, seeking help from Martin's estranged family after he commits himself to a sanitarium. She's met with very cold shoulders for fear of some kind of poorly explained potential familial scandal.
Téchiné has an incredible command of this film's visual signature (although that could be just as easily credited to cinematographer Caroline Champetier), leaving indelible symbolic impressions with images like Martin standing naked in front of an open window, at night during a snowstorm.
But peppering an inorganic, disjointed movie like "Alice and Martin" with a few artistically inspired shots only makes the picture more frustrating to watch, because suddenly there's great potential staring you in the face, making you wish the strange structure had afforded the opportunity to invest in these characters before it collapsed into abstract convolution.