Hannah Strong


Beating Hearts – first-look review

An archetypal good girl meets a boy from the wrong side of the tracks in Gilles Lellouche's sweeping melodrama.

Shakespeare was really onto something when he wrote “The course of true love never did run smooth” in Act 1, Scene 1 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This truism has fuelled romantic narratives the world over for centuries, and now, in Gilles Lellouche’s 165-minute melodrama, two young lovers discover as much for themselves, as they first meet as headstrong teenagers and later encounter each other as world-weary adults.

Jackie (played by Mallory Wanecque as a teen and Adèle Exarchopoulos as an adult) lives a comfortable suburban life with her father (Alain Chabat) following the death of her mother in a tragic car accident when she was a child. After being expelled from her private Catholic school, she enrols in a public one, where she first clashes with Clotaire (Malik Frikah and later François Civil), a cheeky, violent thug who’s dropped out of school to focus on petty crime and causing a nuisance. Jackie is the first girl to stand up to Clotaire, and it’s love at first sight for him. Jackie takes a little more convincing, but there’s something about the wild boy that she’s powerless to resist. Their budding romance is defined by long rides on his dirtbike, a daring Flamby heist and visits to the local swimming hole and beach; around Jackie, Clotaire softens, and for a moment, the possibility of a future not fuelled by his fists seems entirely possible.

But then Clotaire and his mate Lionel steal some hash from some local gangsters, and after receiving a bit of a kicking, Clotaire impresses them with his violent streak. His fate is sealed, and while he tumbles further down the rabbit hole leading to an eventual 12-year prison sentence for a crime he didn’t commit, Jackie is left alone and broken-hearted.

Picking up in the 90s, Clotaire is out of prison and Jackie is out of fucks to give. Their reunion is inevitable, but first, there’s Clotaire’s revenge against the gangsters who let him take the fall and Jackie’s new boyfriend Jeff (played by Vincent Lacoste) to contend with – new complications for old lovers.

Adapted from Neville Thompson’s 1997 Irish novel ‘Jackie Loves Johnser OK?’ by Lellouche, Ahmed Hamidi and Audrey Diwan, some of the sense of place is lost in transporting the narrative to North East of France, but a soundtrack of certified 80s bangers including Sirius by The Alan Parsons Project and A Forest by The Cure help to give the film some of its propulsive energy. The supersized runtime is extravagant, but Beating Hearts doesn’t drag as much as you might expect given the fairly cliche subject matter – this is down to the excellent casting of the four leads, whose performances sync up perfectly across the two decades.

While Beating Hearts is not exactly reinventing the wheel with its Romeo and Juliet narrative and Clotaire’s inevitably late-game redemption arc does feel a little rushed considering the film’s overall length, there’s still something likeable about this sweeping romance, despite its undeniable naivety.

Published 24 May 2024

Tags: Beating Hearts Gilles Lellouche

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