Is everyone in France today really so glum about pursuing a relationship? The citizenry once renowned for jumping into the sack at the drop of a hat looks sour and disappointed on love, reading the main characters' faces of Romance and L'Ennui from last year. The recently released An Affair of Love (ostensibly Belgian, but the unnamed setting could easily be Paris) may be a sign that the melancholy runs in the older set, too. Dolefulness over the prospect of finding a mate turns into cosmic desolation, in the metaphysical treatises I Stand Alone and L'Humanite, a pair which should soon turn into a chilling revival bill. The press release on Catherine Corsini's The New Eve appears to promise more stark weather: An 'impetuous bisexual in Paris' does drugs, sleeps 'in bed with strangers' and 'despises feminine traditions.'

The very title sounds like preachy rubbish. Actually, The New Eve has more in common with The Lady Eve than with its French-language brethren. Charmed by but not exactly reverent toward the greedy, irrepressible main character, Corsini manages that rare feat in French cinema-a breezy comedy-mostly by letting moments pregnant with humor that are on the edges of the film fulfill their destiny, instead of steering them in the interests of seriousness and smooth pattern toward drama. Corsini well understands that if you achieve perfect cohesion of emotional tone, the world never gets to laugh. The New Eve's principal mode, thanks largely to d.p. Agnes Godard's rigorous, finely balanced medium shots, is dry-eyed observation. But when the lead stumbles across a bathroom to prevent her object of love from leaving, jamming his hand in the doorway, objectivity may stay, but it's no longer dry.

Camille (Karin Viard) is a strikingly ungainly, impulsive woman who fulminates about marital oppression and, of course, her 'sexuality,' but who really wants a good, quick time through parties, drugs and sex. Too mousy to be gluttonous, Camille seems to hope to stay a nondescript blur, inside trendy circles but also out of the way. As she wails one day in the middle of a busy street at the pointlessness of it all, a man speaks calmly, reassuringly to her. Camille later spies this gentleman, Alexis (Pierre-Loup Rojot), a political activist, at an art exhibit. He's articulate, well-liked, unpretentious, and Camille's first instinct is to hate him. Soon, however, she figures out she loves him. She participates in his group's political discussions, just to be near him. Problem: Alexis is married to a smiley, fastidious, devoted, beautiful professor. Camille sums her up as 'a nightmare.'

Corsini sees Camille as a dolt, but also effusive, straightforward, and assertive in an awkward, lovable way. Always learning the hard way, Camille represents the kind of romantic passion that can't be held down. She's a wrench inside any system, be it a political one or a film's style. Corsini shows spunk by putting a marginal character like her on the screen, crafting a kind of detached comedy around her that does her justice.

--Peter Henne