Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Heartbreaker (L'arnacoeur) -- common interests and unhappy couples

Director: Pascal Chaumeil, 2010. (PG-13)

Matchmakers work to bring two people together to form a marriage made in heaven. But what if the couple is mismatched and the marriage seems doomed to become a hell on earth? Then you call on a matchbreaker, or a professional heartbreaker, such as Alex (Romain Duris) in this French farce/rom-com.

With slim physique, two-day growth and sexy charm, Alex has everything he needs to take on the job of breaking up undesired partnerships. Working with his sister Melanie (Julie Ferrier) and her husband Marc (Francois Damiens), the actress and technologist, Alex is a professional marriage-derailer. Applying his two rules, to only work with unhappy couples and to never fall in love with the mark, he wins the girl’s heart each time. But then he turns on the tears and breaks up with her. He tells each one she deserves better than him, as he has been hurt too much. Surprisingly, each woman thanks him even as he leaves her.

The first ethical question is whether it is OK to break up an unhappy couple and hence stop them from getting married. If a man and woman are not in love but are caught in a relationship that neither can break, then it may be appropriate to offer help. The apostle Paul entreats us to “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). We have a responsibility for the welfare of those in our faith family, and those we love. However, when love has blinded someone’s eyes their ears may be closed to the truth. They may not want to hear about the reality of the relationship, hoping against hope that things will work out. Friends are often ignored. In this sense, Alex’s two rules make sense to help and not further hurt the unlucky woman. In the long run, she is better off having fallen for his ruse. But the practice of the heartbreaker is deceptive, even if the end justifies the means. Using a sinful means taints the result.

With bills overdue and loan sharks on the prowl, when Juliette’s father approaches him to break up his daughter’s impending marriage, Alex violates his first rule. Juliette (Vanessa Paradis) is rich and beautiful and very much in love with her English fiancĂ© Jonathan (Andrew Lincoln). And with the marriage just 10 days away, Alex has his work cut out to break a heart without breaking his second rule.

Acting as a personal security guard, Alex gets close to Juliette in Monte Carlo. Knowing her tastes from the research of his backup pair, he begins to use these as if they were his tastes, too, from favorite movies (Dirty Dancing) to favorite music (George Michael). In this way, their “common interests” bring them creepily together very quickly while Jonathan is away in England.

Here is a fallacy: interests that are exactly the same will create a harmonious relationship. It may spark an initial attraction, but over time it is the differences that amplify the attraction, not the similarities. Such differences bring intrigue and mystique, and cause us to search out the unknown in the other. They actually help each one to grow and develop as they learn more and spark new interests. Just as in magnetism, so too in life: opposites attract.

Unlike many French films, Heartbreaker moves along at a good pace and has many very funny moments. It does resort to some romantic comedy tropes, especially toward the end, but this is to be expected. The central couple has a charming chemistry, but it is never explained why Juliette’s father wants the marriage prevented, since Jonathan is a very eligible bachelor with no obvious faults.

The second ethical question is whether it is OK to break up a happy couple intent on marriage. Here, the right thing to do would be to endorse their betrothal and celebrate their nuptials. Why would a friend or father want to separate two people who seem perfectly matched for one another? It would appear to be only for selfish reasons. Paul’s advice here is, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit” (Phil. 2:3). When we place our own interests above our friends and then compound it by acting deceptively to destroy a relationship, we have ventured deep into sinful territory.

However you answer these two key questions, you can’t help rooting for Alex with his light and elegant Gallic grace. A heartbreaker he is. . . even when it may end up being his own heart that is broken!

Copyright ©2011, Martin Baggs

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