The spellbinding French drama 3 Hearts seduces viewers from its opening moments. Marc (Benoît Poelvoorde), a tax inspector, misses his train to Paris, and meets Sylvie (Charlotte Gainsbourg). They fall hard for each other, and agree to meet in Paris a week later. However, Marc is delayed for their appointment. Sylvie, dejected, returns home to her husband (Patrick Mille), with whom she soon heads off to Minneapolis to live.
Meanwhile, Sylvie’s sister, Sophie (Chiara Mastroianni) meets Marc and falls for him, breaking off her relationship for this charming, helpful stranger. Of course, during the course of their relationship, Marc does not know who Sophie’s sister is, but the tension mounts: will, when, and how will his secret be revealed?
3 Hearts may look and sound like a classy soap opera—elements including heart attacks, pregnancies, stolen kisses and embezzlement figure into the plot—but under the exceptional direction of co-writer Benoît Jacquot, the film attains a level of tension and emotion that raises it far above a simple potboiler.
The director coaxes very compelling performances from his actors. Charlotte Gainsbourg makes Sylvie’s wrestling with her passions credible when they are reawakened after she encounters Marc again. Chiara Mastroianni is lovely and touching as the insecure Sophie, who cries at her sister’s departure for the States, but becomes more confident after finding happiness with Marc. And in the pivotal role, Benoît Poelvoorde is terrific, palpably carrying the burden of his secret and yet also communicating the love he feels for the two women in his life.
Jacquot moves his camera or closes in on the characters during moments of intense emotion, and this showcases their internal conflicts well. A meal where Sylvie and Marc steal glances at one another is fraught with drama. The director teases out the meaning of a cigarette lighter that passes from Marc’s hand to Sylvie’s to Sophie’s. Moreover, Jacquot elevates the sudsy material by making suggestions throughout that an event that might—or might not—have occurred.
The film’s ending may leave the viewer to determine how they want the story to end, but this does not make the engaging 3 Hearts any less magical.
3 Hearts opens in Philadelphia area theaters today.
Author: Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer. He is the co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina. Volumes 1 and 2, and teaches seminars at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer.