A life without love? That’s terrible! Love is like oxygen, love is a many splendored thing, love lifts us where we belong, All You Need Is Love! Poetry, music and art in general have celebrated Love for centuries and, for the past 107-odd years, so have the movies. One of the very first things to be immortalized on celluloid was a dude with a mustache landing a big smooch on a lucky lady. Then the Tramp had his blind girl, Scarlett had Rhett, Rick had Ilsa, Harry had Sally, Christian had Satine…

Lately, more than ever it seems, many have grown cynical and derisive towards movie-love, romantic comedies, “chick flicks”. Personally, I’m a softie, I admit it, I’m always touched by seeing people fall in love on screen. Then again, I’m not a sucker and I’m aware that most entries in the rom-com genre are corny, derivative and idiotic. But once in a blue moon, you find one that’s surprisingly sincere, original and intelligent. “Les Aimants” is such a film.

After a painful heartbreak, Julie (Isabelle Blais) took off on a trip around the world and dedicated herself to Third World kids, fair trade farmers and the such. 5 years later, she comes back to Montreal where she crashes with her sister Jeanne (Sylvie Moreau), a bitchy, shallow woman who lies as she breathes. Julie finds herself entangled in the “game” Jeanne plays with her fiancé Noël (David Savard), a workaholic who’s barely ever home. Since their schedules don’t match, they communicate through messages they leave under magnets on the refrigerator. Jeanne is leaving for a week of adultery with Theremin virtuoso Manu (Emmanuel Bilodeau), so she wants Julie to cover up for her by responding to Noël’s fridge notes. Julie decides to get “positive revenge” on her seemingly heartless sister by making the messages she leaves more romantic. In an ironic twist, Noël also has a friend, Michel (Stéphane Gagnon), doing the magnet-dialogue for him. And what do you know, the two messengers wind up falling in love with each other…

The plot is actually much more complex than this, but I’ll let you experience all the wonderful little subplots and asides yourselves. While the diverted flirtation between Julie and Michel is the main course, the movie is actually an ensemble piece following 5 or 6 interconnecting romances. This is not unlike Richard Curtis’ rom-com epic Love Actually, except that “Les Aimants” is much more focused and inspired.

The film was written and directed by Yves Pelletier, a former member of the legendary comedy group Rock & Belles Oreilles. That his directorial debut is hilarious is unsurprising (though that’s already more than I can say about ex-RBO Guy A. Lepage’s worthless Camping Sauvage), but I didn’t expect it to also be full of heart and brains. There are many big laughs, but they’re always integral to the overall story and themes. Pelletier juggles interesting ideas about synchronicity and forces of attraction, about the good vibrations of love and of the Theremin, about Vermeer paintings and Harlequin novels… But this is a comedy, so the risk of falling into the trap of pretentiousness is avoided, as Pelletier never takes himself too seriously.

Michel often follows big declarations by saying he’s “just kidding”, and that’s the film right there, heartfelt and tongue in cheek at the same time. Another recurring line is “C’pas intelligent mais ça marche.” (It ain’t intelligent but it works), and you feel that this is Pelletier apologizing for using romantic comedy gimmicks and clichés. No need for that: “Les Aimants” works AND it is intelligent.

The whole cast is fantastic, making each character funny and endearing, even those that are initially ridiculous, but ultimately this is Isabelle Blais’ picture. She managed to steal Les Invasions Barbares with only a few minutes of screen time, so imagine how luminous and lovable and moving she is through a whole film! She even gets to sing on two of the songs of the great prog-pop score by Dumas and Carl Bastien

“Les Aimants” translates literally as “the magnets”, but it can also mean “The Loving”, a perfect title for a perfect film.


Update (12/23/09)

“Les Aimants” was playing on TV tonight and by chance (or was it?), as I was flipping channels during the second intermission of the hockey game, I stumbled upon it just as it was beginning, and I was immediately and irremediably hooked in. That, right there, is a foolproof sign that you truly love something (or someone), when you’re instantly ready to leave whatever else you had going on to give it your full attention.

This was my fourth time watching Yves Pelletier’s extraordinary debut and once again, it totally won me over. This is without a doubt the best romantic comedy of the last 10 years, which isn’t saying much I guess, as that genre tends to attract hack filmmakers. But first time at bat, Pelletier managed to knock it out of the park with overwhelming heart and wit. His Jutra-winning screenplay, which boasts a knowingly preposterous plot fuelled by happenstance and serendipity, never ceases to surprise and delight, even after you’ve seen the film numerous times. The dialogue is almost always at once irreverent and sincere, a delicate balance that Pelletier holds admirably well.

For that, of course, he can thank his stellar cast of actors, each of whom perfectly understands the tone Pelletier is going for, which calls for a certain kind of playfulness that doesn’t undercut but actually enhances the emotional heft of the movie. Here’s the thing: “Les Aimants” is all about being aware of how silly ideas like fate, synchronicity and true love are… Yet in the end, the characters -and the film- embrace these ideas anyway, which makes it all the more moving.