Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The French keep telling those who won't listen that in matters of the heart, they are infinitely more sophisticated. Nathalie proves the point. Where else could such a subtle, manipulative and emotionally oblique film be made?

Essentially a short story, its premise is perverse. Catherine (Fanny Ardant) suspects that her husband Bernard (Gerard Depardieu) is sleeping around. He denies it, of course, until faced with indisputable proof, to which he reverts to the time-honoured defense that "it didn't mean a thing" and "you are the one I love".

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Trust is broken and Catherine feels angry and adrift. She wanders into a club, which is a brothel, dressed up to look like an exclusive bar, and is drawn towards a striking, melancholic blonde prostitute, by the name of Marlene (Emmanuelle Beart).

She hires her to seduce her husband and invents a character called Nathalie, a student, who will make contact with Bernard in the cafe, where he has morning coffee and reads the newspapers, like a fly cast across the nose of a trout.

At first, this is about Catherine, how she demands intimate knowledge of Bernard's infidelity, pressing for details of sexual activity, while enjoying a certain excitement in this voyeuristic game, and then the emphasis switches to Marlene/Nathalie, whose fantasies and desires are even more complex. What it isn't about is Bernard. Although the sexual object, in one form or another, he is not allowed a voice, nor even a point of view.

"Do you still love him?" Nathalie asks.

"I've no idea," Catherine says.

Marlene has become Nathalie by this stage and the women find they have a close bond, which may be an illusion, like so much else.

This is a film, not about marriage, or sex, although on the surface that's what it appears, but about lies and whether absolute truth in life and love is possible, or even preferable.

It has a sting in the tail, a numbing heart grenade, which is well disguised. The performances reflect the film and are infinitely sophisticated, but somehow the screenplay is too clever by half and its subtleties less emotionally motivated than intellectually intriguing.

Reviewed on: 16 Jul 2004
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A suspicious wife hires a prostitute to seduce her unfaithful husband.
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Director: Anne Fontaine

Writer: Jacques Fieschi, Anne Fontaine, Francois-Olivier Rousseau

Starring: Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Beart, Gerard Depardieu, Wladimir Yordanoff, Judith Magre, Rodolphe Pauly

Year: 2003

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France/Spain


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