The cinematic view of Parisian life has tended to be divided into the sophistication of affluent Parisians with their designer clothes, spacious accommodation and casual wine-quaffing repartee of Cache (2005) or the streets of hard hitting dramas such as La Haine (1995) or Entre Les Murs (2008) and crowd pleasers such as the Luc Besson written Taxi (1998-2004) or District 13 (2004-9) franchises. Living on Love Alone depicts a fuzzy middle ground showing a country still trying to sort out the political tug-of-war between social crusaders and Nicolas Sarkozy’s desire to drag his country into a modern market economy. Our protagonist Julie strides the boundaries of these ideologies but rejects them both because, well, society is doing nothing to make life any easier for her. The previous generation have had everything, she can see nothing. Writer/director Czajka empathises with this predicament but does not seem to be able to reach any solution.
Starting out in the workplace is never an easy thing but Julie has a shot at a future that anyone would dream of – the chance to work for Alter Ego, one of the top PR agencies in France which is led by a visionary guru who encourages innovation and, if you will, hippie principles. Their laid back way of working encourages creativity and free-thinking. Except that their idea of free-thinking involves being on call 24 hours a day; the duties seem to involve taking the boss’s kids out to Disneyland and having a bizarre sense of precognition that anticipates corporate lunch orders. Quitting, or rather being fired from her internship Julie embarks on a series of jobs and encounters that lead her to disillusionment and casual sex but also, maybe, to love. A chance encounter with a blagging role-playing actor at a job interview leads her to a path that could be her salvation or damnation.
Julie’s plight is one that initially seems familiar to either newly graduated students seeking a high-flying job or those who have seen films such as Devil Wears Prada (2006) – that of the dippy intern finding life difficult in a business environment that is financially rich but perhaps lacks any concept of the real world. Initially we relate to our heroine who is stuck doing menial jobs and it soon becomes clear that her role has no real prospects for the future in the bitchy, high-flying world of PR. Living on Love Alone portrays a side of France that many don’t want to address – the disillusioned middle class who have nothing to gain and, maybe, don’t even want anything. There is no doubt that Julie is exploited by her employer but it’s also clear that she doesn’t take her responsibilities seriously. Indeed the only job she does seem to be able to hold is a menial copying job that is far below her mother’s expectations and does not meet her own financial needs. Instead she falls back on casual affairs in a vague and ill-defined attempt to perhaps further her career, or perhaps ease the boredom of day-to-day living. Hers is the no-future generation, seeking life experiences where she can get them without any long term consequences. The solution is simple – go with the handsome rogue and to hell with the consequences.
Living on Love Alone is an engaging character driven story that ultimately fails on its own premise. If the audience fails to empathise with Julie it’s not as a result of Anais Demoustier’s ability as an actress (it’s an utterly convincing performance) than with the ultimately lacklustre climax and the episodic nature of the film which gives equal time to relationships of unequal importance. Overall, though, it’s a worthy look at the real middle class of France’s new youth and the bleak opportunities afforded them. Czajka is adept at getting realistic and honest portrayals from her actors even if the end result feels like a slight slur on young people and class woes rather than a call to arms.
Living on Love Alone plays at the London Film Festival on Monday 25th October and Tuesday 26th October.