Directed by Yann Samuell, starring Guillaume Canet, Marion Cotillard, Gérard Watkins, Emmanuelle Grönvold, Thibault Verhaeghe and Joséphine Lebas-Joly.

'Love Me If You Dare' is an accomplished and polished film from first-time director/writer Yann Samuell. His story of a pair of young lovers, while comic and undoubtedly romantic, also has a darker, disturbing side. This tale of amour fou, or 'mad love', was a box-office hit in Samuell's native France and should also manage to make a splash here, taking the audience that adored the feelgood 'Amélie' - and confounding their expectations.

Intermittently narrated by Julien (Canet), 'Love Me If You Dare' is about the destructive game that he plays over three decades with his childhood friend Sophie (Cotillard). Seeking escape from unhappy home lives, the duo team up at the age of eight - Sophie deciding that Julien is her kind of guy when he releases the brake on the school bus in response to her dare. A tin box painted with a carousel, given to Julien by his mother before her death, becomes their magical talisman - whoever holds it, can dare the other to do a something potentially embarrassing and/or dangerous.

Samuell uses these dares to stage a series of vibrant and often very funny set pieces, from the destruction of a wedding cake, Sophie wearing her bra over her clothes during an important exam and slapping a sports coach into a breakdown. As their game moves from childish pranks to outright madness, there are times when each is willing to give it up - but this never happens at the same time - and they continue to torment and hurt each other in a manner that becomes more and more unhinged.

As the light-hearted charm of the first half of the film gives way to something far darker, it's hard to pinpoint exactly when the protagonists cross the line from mildly subversive to psychotic. 'Love Me If You Dare' is rather like eating a piece of Turkish Delight, rose coloured and sickly sweet - until your tooth jars on an unexpected nut hidden inside.

Samuell's use of directorial tricks - fast-forwards, skewed angles and fantasy sequences - along with Antoine Roch's sepia-toned cinematography add to the richly detailed and hyper-real look of the film. Both leads give likeable performances, as do Thibault Verhaeghe and Joséphine Lebas-Joly in their eight-year-old incarnations, but Marion Cotillard (who recently appeared in 'Big Fish') is undoubtedly the more compelling - and frightening - as Sophie.

Although the dual ending - one crazy, the other sweet - is something of a cop-out, 'Love Me If You Dare' is still a breathtaking ride through the dark side of love.

Caroline Hennessy