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Venice and Toronto 2011. Lou Ye's "Love and Bruises"

Lou Ye's adaptation of Jie Liu-falin's Bitch with Tahar Rahim and Corinne Yam fails to provoke the critics.

"When foreign directors make films in Paris, the result is often a predictable mix of cafés, croissants and obligatory shots of the Eiffel Tower at night," writes Jordan Mintzer in the Hollywood Reporter. "In the French-language drama Love and Bruises, Chinese auteur Lou Ye (Summer Palace) steers clear of such clichés, only to deliver a whole other brand of them in this sordid, ultimately bland tale of amour fu between a Beijing student and a banlieue thug, played by A Prophet star Tahar Rahim. Filled with Lou's usual sexcapades, and with enough rapes and scuffles to make the City of Light look like the South Bronx, Bruise should pound only a handful of arthouses after its Venice Days opening berth."

"Lou's sexually and politically charged Summer Palace (2006) led the Chinese government to restrict him from filmmaking for five years, a ruling he defied by making the frisky 2009 melodrama Spring Fever," recalls Justin Chang in Variety. "On paper, Lou's latest project — an adaptation of Jie Liu-falin's scorching autobiographical novel Bitch, which was banned in mainland China — suggested he was out to deliver another envelope-pushing exercise. Oddly enough, this collaboration between two outlawed Chinese artists seems disinclined to offend Sino sensibilities: The title has been toned down; the sex, though abundant, is not especially explicit; and the Gallic backdrop effectively neutralizes official Chinese objections to this largely French-financed feature. Indeed, the ever-present European strain in Lou's work seems to have overwhelmed his other impulses here, yielding a sort of 'Last Tango in Paris Lite' that, for all its apparent interest in differences of class, gender and ethnicity, lacks a distinctive personality or culturally specific identity of its own."

At Cineuropa, sees Vittoria Scarpa "an intense feat of acting, with moments of great intimacy: 'Before the shoot, Corinne [Yam] and I had met each other only once,' said Rahim, 'and this turned out to be an advantage, since the meeting between the characters we play is also sudden and quick.'" Lou on shooting in French, a language he doesn't speak: "A challenge for a director's sensibility and experience, which leads you to concentrate on other aspects: intonation, rhythm, gestures. On visual and bodily language."

Screen's Mark Adams: "There is much to admire in Yam and Rahim's immersion on their roles, especially given there is not much breadth of character for them to play with — bleak sex, occasional violence and some drinking sessions are the cornerstones of their relationship — and often their reactions to plot developments are simplistic rather than subtle."

Update, 9/4: "If the whole is scarcely deeper than a bowler hat," writes Guy Lodge at In Contention, "we have the attractions of Nelson Yu Lik-wai's painstakingly lit handheld cinematography (locating precisely the energy and texture of real-world Paris), Juliette Welfling's bustling editing and, for those so inclined, no shortage of hot sex between the two awfully pretty leads. I've had worse times in a competition film."

Update, 9/13: For Joseph Jon Lanthier, writing at the House Next Door, "murmurs of ethnic identity crisis are too readily interpretable to weigh the film down with allegory."

Update, 9/14: "Love and Bruises finally offered me a chance to test a theory," writes Shelly Kraicer in Cinema Scope: "that director Lou Ye can only find the cinematic freedom he needs by dropping the politics overlaying his recent films (Purple Butterfly, Summer Palace, Spring Fever) and just shooting the sex. Well, he shoots the sex all over Love and Bruises, and my theory proved very, very wrong; there's not a lot of freedom here, except that of the male fantasist."

Venice 2011 Index. Having screened at Venice Days, Love and Bruises now moves on to the Vanguard program in Toronto. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @thedailyMUBI on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.

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