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By James Teitelbaum | October 16, 2009

The French-Swiss feature “Partners” is about a pair of lonely middle-aged cops who can’t get a break. Herve Cagan (Gilbert Melki) is of ambiguous sexual orientation. He spends his nights eating alone in sushi bars, and sometimes visiting an old friend who may or may not have been a lover. Karine Mangin (Emmanuelle Devos) is a woman so terrified by the impending demise of her youth (and her fertility) that she resorts to internet dating and even looking for sperm donors in her manic and near obsessive need to breed before she gets too old.

On the job, the partners and friends meet a young girl who really needs a break. They take pity on her, and give her a crack at the happiness that they both crave so much. The journey to this point takes ninety minutes, and gets there via the tragic story of Vince (Cyril Descours), a nice-looking young man who makes his living letting middle aged men to screw him. Lonely for some real affection but presumably unable to maintain a lasting relationship (due to his profession) Vince is thrilled when a shy and milquetoast young lady named Rebecca (Nina Meurisse) falls for him. Vince needs to be needed in a real way, and the equally needy Rebecca will do. Normally, he would probably be way out of Rebecca’s league, but lonely and alone (for different reasons – just like Karine and Herve) they fall for each other. Meurisse gives a subtle performance as the wallflower Rebecca, a girl who must be intimidated and bewildered at having landed a boy like Vince. Dim, dumpy, and in love, she follows him into questionable places that a more self-assured girl would not have. As Vince, Descours switches effortlessly back and forth between the jaded hustler, aged eighteen going on thirty-five, and the goofy teenager drinking vodka and apple juice with his smitten girlfriend.

The kids have a great time together until Vince’s lifestyle catches up with him. It is no spoiler to announce that he turns up dead; this happens in the film’s opening scenes. What follows are a series of flashbacks relating the tale of Vince and Rebecca, mixed with scenes of Karine and Herve investigating the murder and finding the parallels between their own loveless lives and the joyful relationship of the young couple. As the film unspools, it seems to be less and less about “who killed Vince” and more about what might become of Rebecca. Her fate is where the real tension lies in this movie.

Although the story is occasionally gripping and the performances are better than average, the film doesn’t offer any major surprises and stops just short of really delving into deeper territory. How youthful recklessness sculpts our lives as adults, or how love must be seized and reveled in, seem to be themes that might have crossed the director’s mind. But they never quite make it to the screen.

Note: “Partners” made its U.S. debut at the 45th Annual Chicago International Film Festival on October 9 and goes into wide release in France in January, 2010.

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