Sunday, March 25, 2012

Delicacy (La Délicatesse)

Stating Things Plainly, Amidst Isolation In France

Audrey Tautou as Nathalie in David Foenkinos and Stéphane Foenkinos' romantic comedy-drama "Delicacy". 
Cohen Media Group


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Sunday, March 25
, 2012

"Delicacy", now playing in select theaters in the U.S. and Canada, is a French romantic comedy-drama directed by the Brothers Foenkinos (David and Stéphane).  Nathalie (Audrey Tautou) is an industrious lady who has lost her husband François (Pio Marmaï) and tries to pick up the pieces on her own terms amidst unwelcome attention at work from her harassing boss (Bruno Todeschini). 

Nathalie is alone, isolated.  She is smothered and suffocated by the goodwill of her parents and in-laws.  She needs to escape, and impulsively seizes the day, to the surprise of a co-worker Markus (François Damiens), a Swede she manages.  Their unlikely romance leads to bliss, complications and a buried past "Delicacy" arrives at suddenly and awkwardly, as if to mirror the tricky, unpredictable paths romance and life often take.

Sprinkled with some of the magical atmosphere of "Amélie", a character that the impish and effervescent Ms. Tautou embodied so perfectly, the Foenkinos Brothers playfully mock romantic comedies and the transformation of love-crossed beings touched by a cosmos that flashes comets of blinding light on them.  Some of this dreamy, fantasy white-light glory is strange for a film that feels for much of the first hour as if it is trying to settle and find itself.  There's a spiritual artifice "Delicacy" imposes in several ways, including its shifting (and distracting) narrative voice, an anything but delicate device.

Rocked by her husband's sudden death Nathalie buries herself in her work just as many men often do.  Is her self-imposed borne of her independence or is it because she's the sum of what she's lost in her life?  Does Nathalie feel vulnerable in letting another into her life?  The film tries to answer that question, although a key line spoken late on by a male character, threatens to make Nathalie, a resolute presence, into a simpering movie damsel in distress who typically falls into the trap of dropping everything in her steady, independent life to be with a man, without thinking things through.  Instead, "Delicacy" takes a nifty turn toward something more revelatory, truthful and faithful to its protagonist.

"Delicacy", about saying what you mean and doing as you say, captures the difficulty of doing both.  The film asks not whether honesty is the best policy but whether expressing yourself in every environment and context leads to more happiness and freedom or further isolation and loneliness. 

Each major character in "Delicacy" is trapped in an obstacle course of tangled self-expression.  Nathalie's boss Charles, a married man, wants to punish an employee for thwarting his own extramarital desires but he's stifled.  Markus, a self-conscious, modest and sensitive man from a different class background than Natalie, utilizes avoidance to steer clear of getting hurt feelings.  Nathalie, a bold, refreshing woman, is lonely but free, revitalized and a few years removed from her husband's death.  She gets a new lease on life, much to chagrin of her friend Sophie (Joséphine de Meaux) who is now a mother and lives vicariously (if not jealously) through Nathalie's new adventures.  

"Delicacy" becomes a sharper-focused and better film in its second half, shedding its jovial armor and revealing itself as a drama, taking an involved turn, opening up from its local scope into a deeper, more personal story about roots and history.  I liked this second half of the film a lot better than much of the first, and had David Foenkinos, who wrote the script based on his novel La Délicatesse, maintained a smooth rhythm evocative of the film's second half I would have enjoyed it even more.  The film's disruptions are its biggest casualty.  Otherwise, "Delicacy", a bitter-sweet exercise, more or less merited the tragicomic edge guiding its later stages.  In initially going the pageant like, light bulb-flashing circuitous route to get to its hearty meat and potatoes, "Delicacy" is a film whose isolated parts are greater than its whole. 

Nonetheless, Mr. Damiens is a winning presence, the film's best asset as the unsteady and principled Markus.  He's funny, charismatic and smart in how he restrains himself as a figure who wants love and acts sometimes as if he doesn't deserve it.  Ms. Tautou, a beautiful and measured performer here, does well playing a multi-faceted character in touch with herself and her deep convictions, and she is admirable and charming.  The screenplay has dimension and a good grasp of the push and pull of these two very different people and charts families of people who want the best for Nathalie, whether those families are work colleagues, family members or friends. 

With sweetness, affection and comedy, "Delicacy" charts the joys and sorrows of life and love.  The film is like a flower that blooms, flourishes and fades before finding renewed life touched by fresh water.  "Delicacy" sparkles, sometimes fizzles but resonates in the end.

With: Mélanie Bernier, Audrey Fleurot, Monique Chaumette, Marc Citti, Alexandre Pavloff, Vittoria Scognamiglio, Olivier Cruveiller, Ariane Ascaride, Christophe Malavoy.

"Delicacy" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for some strong language.  The film is in the French language with English subtitles.  The film's running time is one hour and 48 minutes.

COPYRIGHT 2012.  POPCORNREEL.COM.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.                Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW