The human heart is a tremendously fickle organ — at least in Benoit Jacquot’s “3 Hearts,” a heavy-sighing melodrama about a soulful taxman torn between two sisters.
Marc (Benoit Poelvoorde) has missed the last train to Paris. He asks a woman he encounters on the street (the ever-blue Charlotte Gainsbourg) to suggest a decent hotel in this provincial burg. But the two spend the entire night walking and talking, and by sunrise they have agreed to meet at a prearranged time in a Paris park.
The screenplay by Jacquot and Julien Boivent doesn’t make it easy for them. For starters, the two potential lovers fail to exchange their names and phone numbers. It’s an early sign that this movie may not be unfolding in the same world the rest of us live in.
And when he’s delayed by a tax audit with a couple of Chinese businessmen who speak no French and the two fail to rendezvous, the woman, Sylvie, takes the train back home. Her marriage is shaky, but she nevertheless follows her husband to a new job in the U.S.
A few weeks later Marc is back in town on business and is approached at the tax office by Sylvie’s sister, Sophie (the eternally sad-eyed Chiara Mastroianni). She needs advice regarding her family’s antique store.
Wouldn’t you know it? She falls for Marc. Before long, she has left her husband, married Marc and started a family. Marc is aware that Sophie has a sister named Sylvie but doesn’t realize she’s the stranger he fell for on that long night years ago. So when Sylvie finally returns to France for a family reunion — well, there’s a fair bit of tension in the air. Not to mention the possibility of a resumption of their prematurely terminated relationship.
We can handle ruined marriages and illicit romance, providing we can feel the heat, but “3 Hearts” is emotionally neutral. Poelvoorde, best known as a comic actor and the director of the memorable Belgian mockumentary “Man Bites Dog,” doesn’t come off as particularly romantic.
And Gainsbourg and Mastroianni, both fine actresses, never convey what they see in the guy. I mean, he’s an OK dude, but is he really the sort to have you ditching your husband?
Perhaps it works better if you view this as a comedy of emotional infantilism, but Jacquot doesn’t provide a whole lot of humor. Instead of romance and humor, I felt mostly a queasy, creeping dread. People who behave like this in the real world leave wreckage in their wake.