A movie review of “3 Hearts,” a French love-triangle melodrama starring Benoît Poelvoorde and, as sisters, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Chiara Mastroianni. Rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.

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Charlotte Gainsbourg has always had a flinch in her acting, a twitch that suggests she’s bracing for that next blow — physical or psychological.

It made her the perfect Jane Eyre and Sean Penn’s I-know-he’ll-leave-me wife in “21 Grams,” and well-suited to Sylvie, the morose, can’t-get-a-break lover in “3 Hearts.”

This is a French love-triangle melodrama with a few twists, and one moment of jaw-dropping emotional power, courtesy of Gainsbourg, playing another character who takes a metaphoric kick to the gut.

Movie Review ★★½  

‘3 Hearts,’ with Benoît Poelvoorde, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve. Directed by Benoît Jacquot, from a screenplay by Julien Boivent and Jacquot. 108 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, brief nudity, thematic material and smoking throughout. In French, with English subtitles. Seven Gables.

It doesn’t start that way. A gasping, middle-aged Frenchman misses the last train back to Paris. He stumbles around town looking for a hotel, and shares a smoke break with a woman outside a bar. He senses something about her, a wounded humanity. In an instant, they’re sharing intimate questions and revelations.

They walk and talk all night, he asks her to meet him at the fountains in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris on Friday. We haven’t caught their names, because they haven’t offered them. He lost his cell, so there’s no exchange of phone numbers.

And we all recall how such meetings worked out, pre-cell phones. We’ve all seen “An Affair to Remember.” He has a bad day at work and his weak heart gives him fainting spells. Since she’s been stood up, she goes home, back to the lover she doesn’t love and plans her move to Minneapolis with Mr. Wrong. Fate is hard on love affairs.

Sylvie is her name, and she’s never been separated from her sister, Sophie (Chiara Mastroianni), who co-inherited the antiques business their mother (Catherine Deneuve) started.

So when Sophie panics over the accounting that Sylvie used to do and needs a tax professional, she meets Marc (Benoît Poelvoorde of “Coco Before Chanel”). Marc is the man her sister was ready to run away with. Forever.

Naturally Marc and Sophie fall in love. How long before he discovers just whose sister he married, and how long before Sylvie figures out the same?

The melodrama is fairly thick at times, but co-writer/director Benoît Jacquot teases the situations out nicely.

Gainsbourg plays this one on the verge of tears, and Mastroianni — the real-life daughter of Deneuve and Italian film icon Marcello Mastroianni — is actually in tears until that fateful day she met the soulful Marc. He is her happiness, and he might have been Sylvie’s.

But we have to take these women’s word for this attraction, because there’s little to this balding, anxiety-attack-prone smoker and tax official to suggest that.

But Gainsbourg masterfully lets us see Sylvie’s pain, read between Sylvie’s lines to understand the life she wanted, the hopes she held and the dreams that ill-fated brief re-encounter shattered.