In its opening sequence, Even Lovers Get the Blues perfectly sets the stage for the intense exploration of relationships and adultery that follows – a hedonistic montage of several different sex scenes, both joyous and miserable, all climaxing before the film’s title card has even been revealed. Writer/Director Laurent Micheli is a noted theatre actor in his native Belgium, but the most immediately striking thing about his directorial debut isn’t the strengths of the performances he gets from his cast. Instead, he immediately grabs your attention by utilising visuals to articulate the personalities of the ensemble through the depictions of their sex lives, contrasting the couples in messy, miserable relationships with the individuals flying from one hook-up to the next. Even Lovers Get the Blues is a stylish and sexually explicit debut, yet despite the style, its strength comes from effectively encapsulating the mundane misery of couples who grow to become sexually incompatible.
This misery starts suddenly, as Ana (Marie Denys) discovers the passing of her lover Hugo (Gaël Maleux), a tragic and untimely event that leads to several emotional ramifications within their friendship group. Ana becomes conflicted about lapsing back in to a casual sex life, Léo (Séverine Porzio) and Louis (Arnaud Bronsart) are growing distant and increasingly desperate to spice things up in the bedroom, while Dalhia (Adriana Da Fonseca) and Graciano (Gabriel Da Costa) are thrown off balance by the arrival of the promiscuous Arthur (Tristan Schotte) – whom Graciano unexpectedly falls for. As the seasons change and the group head out for a camping holiday together, buried emotional wounds begin to reveal themselves.
It’s an impressive achievement that Micheli’s film is as cinematic as it is, due to his lack of prior experience behind the camera. Transitioning from the medium of theatre to cinema sees him fully embrace the possibilities of film – not just in the stylish nightclub sequences, or sexually charged montages, but also the way he allows the film to be intimate that would be impossible on stage. We see both passionate and unsatisfactory sexual relationships both blossom and grow worse over the course of the drama, and not a single sex scene feels gratuitous. It’s the rare film where the director’s utilisation of the most intimate moments are necessary to the story being told, and not just an exploitative distraction. You can feel him becoming unshackled from the restrictions of theatre and letting himself loose in an art form that caters for boundless creativity.
On paper, a film exploring the disintegrating and evolving relationships between several different characters calls to mind something like Mike Nichols’ 2004 effort Closer, or to a certain extent, Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 masterpiece Magnolia. That three-hour plus epic about the loneliness of various Los Angeles residents isn’t a comparison that instantly becomes apparent, but Micheli has the same fondness as Paul Thomas Anderson for seeking out emotional uplift amongst the unrelenting bleakness – it’s quite telling that both films have unexpected sing-along moments that are depicted with the upmost sincerity. Above any other moment in the film, the brief lapse into musical territory feels like an act of rebellious cinematic experimentation from a director previously restricted to the conventions of the stage.
Even Lovers Get the Blues depicts relationships both gay and straight, and for the most part, upturns cinematic stereotypes by portraying the gay sexual relationship as more fulfilling than the straight ones. Of course, that bliss doesn’t last, as Graciano falls deeper in to a bisexual love triangle – and yet, in a film of stifling realism when it comes to the breakdown of happy partnerships, the resolution of this storyline ends up feeling effortlessly sexually liberated in a way the straight characters have wasted so much time striving to be. It’s a glimmer of hope in a film defined by the characters’ varying struggles in the bedroom.