Whimsy in film can be a balancing act few directors want to tackle. Too much and the film sinks under the weight of its own cuteness. But just the right amount, blended with slightly dark elements and a pervasive study of the characters, can result in a film that does not trod or meander aimlessly from one poorly constructed plot point to another, in the usual workmanlike fashion one associates with tired romantic films that Hollywood churns out every other week.
Jeux d’enfants (Love Me If You Dare) tells the tale of Julien Janiver (Guillame Canet) and Sophie Kowalski (Marion Cotillard), two children who are seemingly inseparable. Their friendship hinges on the dares and challenges they create for each other: whoever holds the candy-colored tin must dare the other to accept a challenge. The stakes continue to raise and ultimately continue into adulthood. Now in their mid 20s, the duo still play their games. But as the game they’ve played has kept going, they must now decide how far they’re willing to go, in life, in love, and everything and anything in between.
Yann Samuel has crafted a motion picture that will draw comparisons to everything from Amelie to a child’s storybook. While there are some similarities to be found, Jeux d’enfants deviates from what’s come before by presenting us with two utterly alive characters the likes of which we’ve not seen in cinema. Julien and Sophie are bewitching figures, ones who cast off the normalcy and conformity that others have laid at their feet, in order to carve their own niche. The nice thing is that the film doesn’t make their choices seem like it’s the right thing to do; the film merely states what the characters feel, what they desire, what they hope, and asks us to judge whether or not the two are free spirits in search of their ultimate source of happiness or merely two individuals with a whole host of issues that need working out.
Performance-wise, Canet and Cotillard instill their characters with every fiber of their being, embuing the indelible personas of Julian and Sophie with a sense of wonder, danger, mischief, heartache, and longing. The dialogue between the two is sharp, well-defined, but also surprisingly real, reflecting the uncertainty of the two throughout. Director Yann Samuell splashes an entire palette of color across the screen while also throwing in amazing visual effects and charming musical cues to bring the world of Julien and Sophie to life.
French cinema always seems to live, breathe and be more than what we’re capable of. It exists, it is its own entity, thriving and humming along to the strains of its own merry orchestra. Time and again, the cinematic eye of France provides us a through-the-looking-glass chance to see the heart, body soul, and mind of characters crafted in the very essence of being. It reminds us that films can transport us to anywhere we would like to go. And sometimes, as with a film like Jeux d’enfants, we’re shown that the only place we need to be is comfortable in our own skin.