"How Much Do You Love Me?" is truly the Monica Bellucci show. The Italian sex bomb embarks on her most heated role to date in this impenetrable French comedy/psychological war from veteran filmmaker Bertrand Blier, single-handedly selling every frame of this creation with a gift for comedy that nearly matches her intoxicating sway.
Francois (Bernard Campan) is a sad sack with a heart problem looking to blow his lottery winnings down at Paris's most revered bordello. There Francois meets Daniela (Monica Bellucci), a prostitute who knows how to play the role of alluring wounded bird well. Offering her 100,000 Euros a month to move in with him, Francois takes Daniela home, hoping their relationship will grow into a full-fledged romance. All seems well until Daniela has a change of heart and allows her vicious husband/pimp (Gerard Depardieu) to enter the picture, leaving Francois's physical and mental health at a breaking point.
Obviously, "How Much" coasts on a sizable amount of insanity. The question is, how is the absurdity portioned out to the audience? Director Blier is triumphant exploring the darkly comic heart of this production, chasing clever moments of comedy and relishing the psychological torture of the characters as they engage in a tug of war of wills and allegiances. It's a modest, intimate filmmaking endeavor, focused on a man who is undertaking a dream relationship and suffering the increasingly treacherous consequences, and I enjoyed how Blier maintained his patience with the characters and situations. Frustration is not an easy feeling to convey onscreen, yet "How Much" is overflowing with aggravation and interpersonal tension, mixed deliciously with barnstorming sexuality. It's an interesting screen cocktail, for sure.
Granted, with Monica Bellucci in the cast, few of the other actors are going to make an impression. Let me state for the record that Campan is a delight as the feeble Francois, and Depardieu is appropriately refrigerator-like and bullying as a pimp.
But let's not kid ourselves here; Bellucci is truly the centerpiece, overwhelming the film with her arresting screen-melting skills. While also displaying an impressive comedic range, her sex appeal towers Godzilla-like over the production. Paraded around by Blier in various cleavage-popping outfits (and often nothing at all), Bellucci is an amnesia-inducing, hot-blooded presence, blowing the top right off the film with her pristine, slap-yourself-in-the-face magnetism. We live in a world where little boys such as Ellen Page are regarded as lust-worthy beings, so it's especially delightful to watch Bellucci, in full command of her biblical temptations, give an exhilarating, breathy performance of undiluted sensuality and unnerving persuasion. It's not hard to appreciate why Francois goes to such disastrous lengths to keep Daniela around.
The final 20 minutes of "How Much" spiral into a dream world...I think. The interpretational ambitions of the film explode in a fireworks display of violence, sexual humiliation, and slapstick comedy that either highlights Blier's depth of thematic investment or perhaps he forgot to take his meds in the editing room. "How Much" certainly releases a scent of linear plot construction for the first 70 minutes of the picture, but that entire story is thrown to the four winds for the finale, which will surely leave the casual viewer with a nasty taste of pretention. Maybe even the seasoned cineastes as well. It's a bungled climax in pursuit of something intangible, and all the visual and aural clues leading up to the final minutes hardly prepare for the farcical derailing that eventually occurs.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio), "How Much Do You Love Me?" is a deeply colorful picture, and the DVD reproduces this intensity with success. The picture constantly toys with lighting and makes great use of come-hither neon, and the DVD experience sells the heat well, only tripping up in the darker moments, which tend to melt into a smear.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is a docile effort, but handles the balance of the hot sax score with the dialogue agreeably. With Bellucci front and center, there's little need for sound at all.
A theatrical trailer is presented, along with peeks at "The Bubble," "Lights in the Dusk," "I Don't Want to Sleep Alone," and "The Man of My Life."
"How Much Do You Love Me?" radiates sensuality out of every pore, and if you're any kind of fan of Bellucci it's a must see to warm up a frosty winter night. My advice would be to shut off the film at the 70-minute mark and invent your own ending, preferably a scenario involving Bellucci and a bubble bath or maybe a topless bedtime story. Anything would be more coherent and desirable than the climax Blier has cooked up here, tainting a sly, uneasy French comedy with a paralyzing sting of irresponsible cinematic surrealism I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.
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