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‘The (Ex)perience of Love’ Review: A Couple Must Sleep With All Their Old Flames in High-Concept Comedy

What if you had to track down and have sex with everyone you’ve ever slept with, for the good of your current relationship? That’s the quirky premise of Ann Sirot and Raphaël Balboni’s new comedy, ‘The (Ex)perience of Love,’ the follow-up to their 2020 debut “Une vie démente.”

When we meet them, the couple in question, Sandra (Lucie Debay) and Rémy (Lazare Gousseau), are hoping to have a child, and after having no luck conceiving naturally, they decide to see a doctor. Curveball: the doctor tells them that they are suffering from a recently identified condition, Past Love Syndrome. The cure is to go forth and finish all their unfinished business, by sleeping with everyone they’ve ever slept with, like a sort of sexy exorcism.

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Of course, this exotic premise is really just a jumping off point for a comedy-drama about romantic relationships — the audience is not meant to spent too much time thinking about the likelihood of such a condition; you just have to go with it, as we did with the likes of “50 First Dates,” “13 Going on 30” or, in a different register, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” The point of such gambits is to provide an effective what-if framework, which this does perfectly well.

It turns out, when Sandra and Rémy compare notes, that there is un petit discrepancy in their respective tallies of ex-lovers: While Rémy’s little black book contains just the three lucky ladies, Sandra’s magic number is in the dozens. Before long, the subject of ethical non-monogamy comes up. Open relationships, while increasingly common in the real world, generally get short-changed in cinema, perhaps because so many plots don’t really work if a couple are open — if Dan in “Fatal Attraction” was able to tell his wife, “Look, heads up: That one-night stand I mentioned, bit full-on as it turns out,” the narrative would fall apart like wet pastry. So it’s refreshing to see a film explore themes of openness, without that necessarily being the core concern.

Formally speaking, “The (Ex)perience of Love” is a largely straightforward proposition, with the exception of a cute concept whereby straightforward sex scenes are replaced with little fantasias themed lightly around an aspect of the encounter — judo, laundry, hair-drying and so on. This doesn’t feel like an attempt to dodge a higher ratings classification (the film still contains full-frontal nudity), but more of a gesture to the magical realism inherent in the premise. Or who knows, perhaps Sirot and Balboni were conscious that loads of regular sex scenes might get repetitive and so decided to liven things up visually.

It’s perhaps not a film that would sustain a vastly longer running time, but at just 89 minutes, this is a sweet and whimsical comedy that knows how not to out-stay its welcome. It’s easy to imagine a bigger-budget American remake hitting Sundance in a couple of years, and if it’s not heresy to say so, this feels like the kind of film where that might make a bit more sense than some other recent remakes of films that premiered at Cannes. “The (Ex)perience of Love” is a very watchable film built around an audience-friendly gambit that could easily be retooled for any U.S. audiences reluctant to engage with subtitles.

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