Sébastien Betbeder’s light-footed sketch of a life (or two, or three) is divided into short, wryly titled chapters that count down from 40. This neat structuring device gives both a shape and an initial melancholy to the story about two friends from university, Arman (Vincent Macaigne) and Benjamin (Bastien Bouillon). Following various threads from the lives of his protagonists, Betbeder traces their romantic travails and grave life challenges with the intimacy and casual warmth of storytelling between friends.
The film feels like it has has several directors, or writers-in-the-moment: Arman, Benjamin, and Arman’s love interest Amélie (Maud Wyler) each regularly recount experiences direct to camera or in voiceover. Interspersed with their narration and the dramatic episodes they recount, we get the blow-by-blow of Arman and Amélie’s meet-cute in a park (and their not-so-cute-reunion in a back street), and of how Benjamin—looking pristine alongside Arman’s one-beat-behind scruffiness—is suddenly and unexpectedly leveled by a stroke.
Betbeder’s style of deft emotional impressionism has a delicacy and freshness that stave off easy absurdism—even the bizarre detail of Benjamin’s telepathic sister is folded into the story in a matter-of-fact way. Betbeder joins the ever-lengthening lineage of the New Wave but his portrayal is thoroughly contemporary, with an appealing open-mindness and nimble sense of humor and sensitivity appreciable on its own terms.