Comedy can often be a difficult genre to transcend cultural lines. Luckily, the quirky premise of ‘Love is Dead’ – a one-man business dedicating to assisting people with break-ups – has enough promise to entice audiences of any background. At the heart of the Love is Dead company is Mathias (Benjamin Lavernhe) who, despite his reprehensible career, is immediately likable in his young, witty demeanour. Mathias is soon joined by the over-eager and quite frankly adorable Juliette (Elisa Ruschke), who is keen to learn as much as she can about the service that Love is Dead provides. Juliette, however, struggles to separate the harshness of work from her own morality – and this is where the film reaches past its unique foundation to discuss difficult topics with a sensitive, empathetic style.
Mathias’ stone-cold line on relationships is rooted firmly in his logical belief that if love is over, then the cleanest and kindest thing to do is end it painlessly. This is where Love is Dead steps in. Mathias approaches the victim (breakup-ee?), lures them into a false sense of security, and then rips the band-aid off quickly: “Your partner doesn’t want to be with you anymore. Please sign here. Do you need a tissue?”
Each break-up scene is brilliant in its severity, with the reactions of the victims varying from anger, to quiet acceptance, to accidental premature labour. Mathias is admirably, if worryingly, professional, always carrying a tape-recording of the client in case the victims don’t believe him – such a bizarre company could always be a setup, after all. The company even offers protection services, relocating their clients so that their exes cannot find them and cause the dramatic break-up scene they were deprived of in the first place. For the more sensitive clients, Love is Dead will forcibly remove photos, videos, and mementos of the lost loved one, in a bid to prevent regret, or guilt, or any feeling at all. Mathias and Juliette provide a complete clean-break, as if the relationship never happened.
The problem, of course, is that crucial fact which Juliette sees but Mathias does not: humans are emotional beings, and logic cannot always be applied so severely in matters of the heart. This hits Mathias squarely in the face when his mother, Clarisse, requests his services. He first believes she is joking, as is typical of his mental separation of work and personal life, but alas, Clarisse is deadly serious. For the first time, Mathias must choose between his subjective wish to keep his parents together, and his objective perspective on what needs to be done when a relationship is over.
This personal entanglement is the trigger for a change in the mood of the story – as Mathias begins to see the faults of his own creation, as do the audience. No longer can he approach the company with a detached view, and as his ethos is challenged, the lines between the personal and the professional that he had so strictly drawn blur over and over again. It’s hard not to feel deeply for Mathias’ dilemma, and this empathy is where ‘Love is Dead’ transforms from a great comedy into a great film. The warmth of the characters – especially in the friendship between Mathias and Juliette – is full and open-hearted. They try their best to do right by each other, and in a world that seems obsessed with bitterness and loathing, this genuine love for life and humour is refreshing.
‘Love is Dead’ is a film that feels young and hip, its script scattered with witty one-liners, but writer/director Éric Capitaine never relies too heavily on style. In the post-screening Q&A, Capitaine voiced his concern that the humour did not translate well in the English subtitles. This may be so for some lines, and one can never be sure if a reference has been missed due to cultural difference, but one thing is for sure – the warm, honest heart of this film is stronger than any language barrier.