Delicacy

Delicacy

**

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

To paraphrase Anna Karenina: Happy couples are all alike…

Delicacy, the closing film of this year's New York Rendez-Vous With French Cinema, begins with a couple's encounter in a cafe. We hear the man's thoughts, wondering what the pretty woman across the room will order. After he analyses in his head how every possible drink would be telling about her character, he comes to the conclusion, "If she orders apricot juice, I'll talk to her."

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She orders just that, he walks over, and kisses her. We soon find out, that the couple re-enacts this scene every year for their anniversary. When François (Pio Marmaï) proposes to Nathalie (Audrey Tautou), he does so with his keyring, presumably overwhelmed by the moment, the Hôtel de Ville, the street musicians. If this sounds quirky and romantic to you, the filmmakers, David and Stéphane Foenkinos have succeeded. Polaroids of the couple's love (sound familiar?) fill in the rest for this stagey, fast-food version of romance.

This is only the beginning, mind you. François is hit by a car and dies. Grief music sets in. When Nathalie returns to their apartment after the funeral you can sense the horror. The second phase of the film shows the widowed Nathalie at her work as a business executive, walking the corridors of her boring office building in a well-chosen array of clothes.

The tiny floral patterns Tautou's character wore before her paradise was lost, are now replaced by asymmetrical tops and pants with a belted bow in an uncommon place. Costume designer Emmanuelle Youchnovski's choices come across not as quirky, thankfully, but appropriate in underlining her mental state of feeling perpetually off balance and uncentered.

Her married boss (Bruno Todeschini), who isn't shy to make advances, is 40 years too late for his behavior. His red-headed secretary has a pen on a chain around her neck, in homage to Joan P Harris (née Holloway) of Mad Men, to make the Sixties reference very clear. When he tries to offer her more than the Swedish crisp rolls on his desk, she declines.

David Foenkinos saw Tautou on stage in Ibsen's A Doll's House while he was writing the script: "I was amazed by the power and fragility she gave off at the same time as a comic energy." There is not much of Nora in Delicacy and Tautou is far less challenged than she was in her delicate portrayal of Coco Before Chanel.

This film is about second love and I couldn't help but wonder, how a director like Mia Hansen-Løve, whose Goodbye First Love is such an excellent and real portrayal of infatuation, would have handled a comedy of mourning.

The third part of the film belongs to Markus (François Damiens, funny in his "depressed Swede act"), who works for Nathalie, runs in the park with very short blue shorts (which a man of his stature better avoid), and knows he is out of his league with her. "I could go on vacation in your hair," is one of his best compliments. "It's a bit like Liechtenstein goes for a walk with the US," he declares, while they stroll in nighttime Paris with the Eiffel Tower blinking in the background.

With the gift of a reindeer Pez dispenser we have reached full circle: An unattractive man's phantasy - happy couples are all alike. You decide where the delicacy lies in this last macaron of the festival and don't forget Tolstoy, because "every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way".

Reviewed on: 18 Mar 2012
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A woman struggles to find love again after she is widowed
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