Viewed in a certain light, the noirish romantic thriller “Lovers,” which premiered on Sept. 3 at the Venice Film Festival, could be seen as something of a change in pace for co-writer and director Nicole Garcia.
A love-triangle potboiler about an unhappy woman, her wealthy older husband, and the bad-news ex-boyfriend she can’t leave behind, the Venice competition title takes standards from genre fiction and transmits them into intimate character drama toplined by actors Stacy Martin (“Nymphomaniac”), Pierre Niney (“Yves Saint Laurent”), and Benoît Magimel (“An Easy Girl”).
“Even in my more overtly romantic films, I’ve always played with ideas of danger and fear, and tried to put the main characters at risk,” says Garcia, who signed on the project when it had a more pronounced genre edge.
“‘Lovers’ gave me that chance to take those ideas even further, [but I didn’t want to go full film noir]. Instead, I preferred to develop the ambivalence of all three characters, their contradictions.”
Among those contradictions are those of the heart. Told in three chapters, the film opens on working-class Lisa (Martin) living carefree in Paris with her drug-dealing beau, Simon (Niney). After tragedy strikes and Simon must flee, the heartbroken young woman rebuilds her life with the wealthy, if enigmatic, Leo (Magimel). Only things take a turn when Lisa chances upon her first love while on vacation in Mauritius.
“The character of Lisa is loved by two very different men in two very different ways,” says Garcia. “She’s like a character out of Pirandello. She adores Simon and is adored by Leo. She’s the subject of those two men’s fictions.”
Another subject, of course, is money. Moving the action to a luxury seaside resort in chapter two and to the chilly affluence of Geneva in chapter three, the settings underscore the new possibilities that first seduce Lisa and then pull in Simon.
“Geneva is a smooth and featureless place, a city that’s built around wealth. That’s the through line of the film. The character of Leo is defined by his money, while Simon sells drugs to make some for himself.”
“Money reveals and lays bare our most intimate natures,” she continues. “I wanted to juxtapose two very different social worlds, to make them coexist alongside another. We see characters without much money trying to get as close as possible to a world full of invisible barriers; tiptoeing around the edge of a volcano to feel a bit of heat.”
“They seek shelter in the very places where they experience their greatest humiliation,” she adds.
For all her social critique, the filmmaker still looked to deliver a polished, commercial film. Asked to describe the project, Garcia pauses. “It’s like a dream, a dark dream,” she offers. “About the harmful bite of love.”