It was quite the coup for the Chicago International Film Festival to procure the world premiere of filmmaker Anna Luif’s latest dramedy THE LOVE STORIES OF LIV S. The fact that it’s also one of the best character studies to come down the pike this year is the icing on the cake. That the film examines the many loves of a young woman without judgment or sexual punishment for her proclivities too, well, that makes this movie almost a minor miracle. When all is said and done, the story of Liv’s love life is one of the must-sees of the 59th annual film fest and you have one more chance to catch it today. (It plays Sunday at the Gene Siskel Film Center in downtown Chicago at 5:45 PM.)
As main characters onscreen go, Liv Sandor (Agnes Delachair) has oodles going for her. She’s a budding filmmaker, a successful musician, and a strikingly beautiful woman. Liv has a vividness and presence too; she’s the kind of person children and animals instantly like as well as the opposite sex. Liv’s large eyes focus on whomever she’s talking to, and her striding gait is forthright yet warm. This 38-year-old woman has confidence to spare. So, why hasn’t she found the great love of her life yet? It’s certainly not for lack of trying as Luif’s narrative reveals.
The film starts with Liv literally falling in love as she takes a funny tumble into a lake where upon she meets cute with fellow swimmer John (Remi Fortin). They start a conversation as they’re treading water, comparing celebrities who died from drowning. It’s a cheeky start for the film and not long after, Luif shows Liv and John passionately making out at a nearby bar. Liv moves fast, but she’s following her heart, not some insecure need for affirmation.
Then, Luif throws us a curve, the first of many clever ones in her film. In VO, Liv tells us that she and John started living together but things soured. Luif then cuts to John throwing Liv out of the house after a nasty argument, and we get the sense that not only does Liv run hot and cold, but this film is going to be less methodical and more fluid in its telling. Luif’s filmmaking style here is matching the unpredictability of Liv’s love life, and such randomness will keep us on our toes. It also gives the film a conversational feel, like Liv is jumping around in her conversation with a girlfriend at a bar.
So, what is it about Liv that makes long-lasting love nearly impossible for her? Luif touches on some possible answers in Liv’s past: her father was abusive to her mother, Liv’s musician days attracted too many kooks and pervs, and those in the theater world are mostly the self-involved kind. That’s certainly true of Paul (Baptiste Gilliérion), a handsome fellow with lofty ambitions, whose desires ran the gamut from doing a musical about Lars von Trier to bedding the actresses he’s directing. Paul blatantly cheats on Liv with his play’s leading lady Emma (Marie Fontannaz), and the betrayal causes Liv to exit the theater the night of the big premiere.
But again here, Luif defies expectations. Liv remains friends with Paul in the story even though they’ve ceased being lovers. Her relationships with Paul and Emma even grow exponentially as she remain lifelong friends with them. That’s not only nuanced storytelling, but it resembles real life more too as seldom are things so black and white. Liv is revealed to be quite mature actually, enough to be able to be forgiving instead of rash or vengeful. As the film goes on, Liv will gather even more gravitas, as she realizes perfection is unattainable. Liv and let live, you know?
The camerawork of Timon Schäppi keeps things buoyant throughout this dreamed, remaining mostly bright and breezy at every turn. Even during the heavier moments, Liv never gets lost in suffocating darkness. And the score by Balz Bachmann is truly something special, finding all the right colors in every scene and capturing the inner feelings of Liv vividly. The cast is so stellar they never seem to be acting, and Delachair is simply wondrous, a real discovery. She makes Liv endlessly fascinating whether she’s trading quips with sly energy, or just sitting still and observing those nearby. Delachair makes Liv oh-so-easy to love.
In fact, I adored Liv so much that I wanted more of her story. That’s not only the sign of an exceptional actress, but a gifted filmmaker who has created something exceptional. Luif has blended realism, fantasy, bold visuals, stimulating sound design, and even some clever symbolism (watch for a lost kitten who’s as lovable as Liv) into one delightful character journey. It’s easily one of the year’s best films and an outstanding addition to this year’s Chicago International Film Festival.