Sprinkling just the tiniest bit of fantasy into an otherwise believable set-up can make for a fun high-concept comedy. When Sandra (Lucie Debay) and Rémy (Lazare Gousseau) are trying for a baby, their doctor — just back from a mysterious conference in Seattle — informs them they have emotional blockage due to “Past Love Syndrome”. The solution: they both have to sleep with all their exes.
The smartest move in Critics’ Week Special Screening The (Ex)perience of Love (Raphaël Balboni, Ann Sirot, 2023) is to simply treat the doctor’s diagnosis as a given. There’s no long-winded, unnecessary explanation about how this bizarre treatment could possibly work. It’s simply the path that they have to take.
It’s a fantastic premise for a romantic comedy. Sleeping and reconnecting with your exes is, of course, a chance to explore the roads not taken, the alternative roads that have now been shut off ever. It’s also a chance to explore yourself in a way perhaps otherwise impossible within the confines of a traditionally monogamous relationship. It’s the perfect way to test if a relationship can stay together, or if it will fall apart completely.
If every relationship has the reacher and the settler, Rémy (body count three…) is certainly the latter. His rookie numbers are eclipsed by Sandra’s 20 ex-lovers. While she goes through the list with military doggedness, he’s far more hesitant to jump into the ring. Gousseau brings a visceral awkwardness to his fumbled advances, while Sandra is comfortable revisiting various men from the past, including expats, DJs, formerly straight men and friendly neighbours. In various amusing sequences, the boundaries of their relationship are tested by the infinite possibilities of sexual exploration, Balboni and Sirot excellently teasing out the nuances of their hitherto happy relationship.
The directing duo retain many of the same stylistic traits that characterised their strong debut, Madly in Life (2020), like capturing characters against a planimetric background and using jump cuts for both comic and emotional effect. A similar sense of silliness pervades the sexual sequences, which reminded me of people Woo Hoo-ing on the Sims. While certainly frank about full-frontal nudity, musical interludes, metaphors and animal costumes abound, making sex feel more like playful exploration than emotional un-layering. While any genuine last-minute conflict feels a little added-on, the farcical elements, including many laugh-out-loud moments, make for an overall warm and pleasant experience.
I can picture the Hollywood remake now. I’m picturing generic suburbia with Jason Bateman and Katherine Heigl. Unnecessary body-shaming, puke jokes and homophobic panic. Danny McBride giving unhelpful, misogynist advice. There’s none of that here. The (Ex)perience of Love may be quite stupid, but it’s certainly not immature.