The (Ex)perience of Love follows way too many rom-com tropes in its latter half, and that affects its initial intriguing premise.
Love can arrive in different ways: in most cases, unexpectedly, and with a few surprises along the way. But for the characters in The (Ex)perience of Love (Le Syndrome des Amours Passées), it arrives in far more complicated ways than one would experience daily. For their second feature-length project, filmmaking duo Raphaël Balboni and Ann Sirot, known for their film Madly in Life (2020), have created a romantic comedy that challenges the audience’s views of desire and affection by having a loving couple reach the next step of their relationship by being unfaithful.
The (Ex)perience of Love begins with a montage of charming relationship quirks of central couple Sandra (Lucie Debay) and Remy (Lazare Goussseau): amongst other things, they take silly selfies and record themselves bantering. Their relationship seems fine at face value, until you begin to hear them talk about something that bothers them. After multiple tries, the couple can’t conceive a child. It’s a big stain in their bond that’s slightly tearing them apart; their love is still too strong for it to break apart that easily. Sandra and Remy have shared their frustrations with a doctor at a local university. Apparently, he has some answers to why the pair can’t have children together. And it isn’t what you expect.
Through an array of jump-cuts (enough to fill a Jean-Luc Godard picture), Sandra and Remy meet with this doctor so he can explain what is happening to them. It turns out that they have a rare “disorder” (if you can call it that) named “past love syndrome” – a newly found malady that infects loving couples. Sandra and Remy scoff at the suggestion of such a ridiculous thing. But they are intrigued enough to ask about the antidote for such syndrome. The only way they can get out of their marital sickness-induced slump is by finding every past lover of theirs and sleeping with them once again. ‘Quoi?’, the characters and audience say out loud concurrently. The doctor warns them that it isn’t one hundred percent effective, because it is a totally new syndrome, but suggests they give it a chance to see if it heals their relationship.
So, Sandra and Remy begin their journey of exploring their past relationships, listing the names of the people they have slept with. As Sandra names her previous partners, Remy begins to question the average of partners a person can have. “The average person has five to ten partners”, says Remy with a slightly mad tone. And you notice why he reacts that way, although it is totally uncalled for: Sandra has twenty, while Remy only has three. This is the first glance at their dynamic filled with jealousy, isolation, guilt, and some dashes of competition. The first few minutes of The (Ex)perience of Love set up an intriguing premise that could be explored in both satirical and grounded ways. It prompts questions about the complex link between love, sex, and family.
Filmmaking duo Raphaël Balboni and Ann Sirot delve into these characters’ sexuality from a different perspective we aren’t accustomed to. The various meetings with their past lovers help explore their sexuality outside of the couple. Sandra and Remy are put in a situation where, in order to have what they want as a couple, they must first go elsewhere. Then, through a series of infidelities, they must find their way back and rekindle their relationship and passion for one another. Just as in the French film Hibernatus (1969), Balboni and Sirot use an absurd scientific premise to construct the backbone of their central characters’ desires and fantasies, albeit relatively unsuccessful in its satiric tone. The (Ex)perience of Love follows these two love birds going through a rocky road of pondering about what happened before and acknowledging the person you have before you – the love of your life and their special moments together.
Lucie Debay and Lazare Goussseau help perfectly sell this uncertainty between in-bed romances, delivering charming performances. There are instances in which it feels that their performances work best separately instead of when they have scenes together. But their line delivery helps to fill the cracks acting-wise. The rest of the cast does little to absolutely nothing in the film, never leaving an impression. I think this experience of love amidst an affair would have benefited from more detailed side characters and backstories of each past lover’s connection with the leading partner.
Unfortunately, a more significant fault hurts the film’s initially fascinating premise. What intrigued the audience in the humorous and charming first act is lost throughout the course of The (Ex)perience of Love due to its reliance on romantic-comedy tropes and plot contrivances to seal the deal. You know where it is headed once the third act arrives, and hope that it has another twist lying around somewhere in the narrative. But there isn’t one. The finale leaves you wanting more out of the absurd scientific experiment that these two characters had during the short and fast-paced eighty-nine-minute runtime. While the film has some scenes where you see the potential for this narrative to grow, its satiric tooth and obvious behavior at the end hold it back from being worthwhile. At least it will serve as an introduction to Lucie Debay’s talents to some people.
The (Ex)perience of Love premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 20, 2023, as part of the 62° Semaine de la Critique. Read our list of 20 films to watch at the Festival de Cannes!