To anyone who doubts that director Christophe Honoré considers himself the spiritual heir to the French New Wave, he proclaims his affiliation as boldly as he can in the freewheeling first 15 minutes of Love Songs. After puppy-eyed scoundrel Louis Garrel surprises his girlfriend Ludivine Sagnier outside a Paris cinema with an impromptu musical number—reminiscent of Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg—the couple heads back to their apartment and into the thick of a love triangle that echoes both François Truffaut's Jules And Jim and Agnès Varda's Happiness. Then, as the lovers lie together in bed, each reads a book with an appropriately ironic title, in a clear nod to Jean-Luc Godard.
As with Honoré's previous film, Dans Paris, the multiple homages in Love Songs work in concert with—and to some extent against—the heady emotional content. Love Songs starts as a movie about Sagnier's reluctant attempts to keep Garrel happy by going along with his selfish ménage-a-trois plans, but then an unexpected tragedy quickly turns this into a movie about the indelible moments that follow profound loss. Honoré even tries to record the curious unreality of the first moment, as an EMT team softly mutters jargon over a corpse while one of the corpse's closest friends makes out with someone in a nightclub, less than a hundred feet away.
Meanwhile, the characters keep on singing. Honoré and composer Alex Beaupain have worked up 13 songs, running the gamut from lilting Michel Legrand-style balladry to Coldplay-esque mid-tempo pop-rock. Frankly, the music isn't that great, and like a lot of Honoré's audacious gambits—a burst of fast-motion action here, a Chris Marker-like succession of still photos there—the "bursting into song" bit comes off as too intellectualized. For all Honoré's talent, heart, and playfulness, his best ideas are the simplest, like the lighthearted early scene where Garrel and a co-worker converse while rolling around in their office chairs, and a pointed moment when Sagnier recalls some of the best memories of her relationship with Garrel, and he fails to reciprocate. Love Songs is definitely daring, but too much of it seems calculated to lead up to a final line about how to guard against grief: "Love me less, but love me a long time."