If the romantic melodrama were in need of vindication, it would find a stalwart defender in "Cinemanovels." Writer-director Terry Miles' revisionist homage is a thoughtful thesis on the melodrama but a letdown in its attempt to serve as an affecting example of that genre.
Birth and death equally haunt Grace (Lauren Lee Smith), who is unable to tell her husband that she isn't ready for children and who is reeling from the passing of her estranged father, a much-lauded director of stylized tragedies. Despite her lingering anger at his abandonment, Grace agrees to organize a retrospective of her father's work.
The auteur's filmography includes indignant Frenchwomen smashing wineglasses and a wife and mistress impassively asking one another "Do you hate me?" and "What good would that do?" The numerous scenes from the movies-within-the-movie make up the most enjoyable parts of "Cinemanovels," which pokes fun at the melodrama's self-seriousness while indulging in their period glamour.
As Grace delves deeper into her father's oeuvre, her life begins to assume its emotional untetheredness. She becomes a voyeur, spying on a couple having sex, and she adopts the qualities that she despised about her dad.
But neither Grace nor her father are developed enough as characters to make this turn of events moving or distressing. "Cinemanovels" cares too much about movies and not enough about people.
MPAA rating: R for sexuality, nudity and language; mostly in English with some French and English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Playing: At Downtown Independent, Los Angeles