One of the most powerful moments in French writer-director Katell Quillévéré’s newest film, Along Came Love (Le Temps d’aimer) happens at the very beginning, during a superbly edited credits sequence of archive footage from the end of World War II.
It starts with victory parades and American GIs celebrating in the streets of France, then finishes shockingly with images of female “collabos” (collaborators), who, because of their affairs with German soldiers, were marched through the very same streets, where they were beaten, branded with swastikas, forcibly shaved and publicly humiliated.
Along Came Love
The Bottom Line
Powerful but patchy.
The director, working with editor Jean-Baptise Morin, suddenly cuts from those archives to black-and-white shots of her heroine, Madeleine (Anaïs Demoustier), a collabo who flees an angry crowd and finds refuge indoors, where she caresses her pregnant belly.
That quick scene says all it needs to about Madeleine’s past, and uncertain future, with only a few tight shots and zero dialogue. It’s unfortunate, then, that Quillévéré, who has made a handful of impressive features (Love Like Poison, Heal the Living) and a celebrated TV series about the origins of French hip-hop (Reign Supreme), doesn’t sustain that same hushed and vital tone throughout the majority of Along Came Love.
The film isn’t a total misfire, and it conveys a strong, at times moving message about the sacrifices required in love and marriage, especially during a period as chaotic as the post-war era. But it does so in ways that can feel overcooked and clichéd, relying more on melodramatic tropes than on the subtle drama found in Quillévéré’s previous works.
The writer-director has certainly aimed high in a story that spans nearly four decades, beginning when Madeleine, now the disgraced mother of a little boy named Daniel (Hélios Karyo), meets wealthy intellectual François (Vincent Lacoste) at the hotel restaurant where she works in Brittany in 1947. Dressed in traditional Breton garb, Madeleine looks as French as you can get, and she’s doing everything she can to bury her traumatic past — including telling Daniel that his German father was killed in the war.
François immediately takes a liking to Madeleine, though his behavior doesn’t always reflect that. When the two marry and move to Paris, where François pursues a PhD in archeology, things quickly seem amiss in their marriage, especially in the bedroom. Soon enough we learn that François had a long affair with a fellow male student, who resurfaces in a jealous rage and winds up burning the couple’s apartment down.
The arson seems extreme, and it reflects a storyline that never reaches the same authenticity as Madeleine’s. Indeed, the press notes state that Quillévéré was inspired by her grandmother’s life for her female protagonist, whereas François’ plight of repressed homosexuality feels like it was cooked up to give the other main character a plot.
This proves especially problematic during the film’s long middle section, which is set in Châteauroux in the 1950s, at a time when the provincial city was filled with American soldiers serving at a nearby military base. Having fled their turmoil in Paris, Madeleine and François now run a local bar catering to the GIs, and things are going well enough until they strike up a friendship with a Black soldier named Jimmy (Morgan Bailey).
That friendship soon blossoms into a three-way romance, with Jimmy serving as an object of desire for the unfulfilled couple, both of whom secretly fantasize about him. Beyond the questionable issue of a muscular Black body becoming a sexual plaything for Madeleine and François, the whole scenario plays out as kitschy — especially during a ménage-à-trois scene that feels wrong from the start.
Demoustier maintains a plausibly shattered demeanor in such moments, and it’s Madeleine’s messed-up relationship with her son (played later by Josse Capet, then by Paul Beaurepaire) that carries the film much more than her marriage. Lacoste was memorable as a young gay man coming out of his shell in Christophe Honoré’s Sorry Angel, but that film had comic elements that are altogether absent here, and the result is a stiff performance that lacks the range to channel François’ predicament.
Nonetheless, there are some moving sequences in the lengthy closing chapter, set back in Paris during the 1960s and 70s, that make up for those head-scratching scenes witnessed earlier, with the mother-son story providing a decent emotional payoff in the final moments.
The film’s French title, which translates to A Time to Love, is clearly a reference to Douglas Sirk’s 1958 post-war saga A Time to Love and a Time to Die, and Quillévéré goes for the same sweeping scope and melodramatic tone throughout her movie. She doesn’t always succeed, and probably hits more false notes than she would have liked, but her ambition is laudable and her vision of post-war malaise certainly credible.