26 April 2008 | RJBurke1942
The two sides of divorce French style.
Romantic dramas and comedies are not usually my thing, although I admit they can be interesting. Despite myself, I found I liked The Bridges of Madison County (1995), for example. So also with this one: a nice mixture of irony, wry humour, and culture clash (American vs French) all topped off with some murder and financial skullduggery.
There's a large cast of characters, but I'll confine most of my comments to the four main players: Kate Hudson as Isabel Walker, Naomi Watts as her sister, Roxeanne, married to Charles-Henri played by Melvil Poupaud and Isabel's aging lover, Edgar Cosset, played with exquisite panache by Theirry Lhermitte.
The story begins as Charles-Henri is leaving Roxeanne (and his daughter) for another woman, Magda (Rona Hartner), just as Isabel is arriving, from USA, to assist Roxeanne. Essentially, Charles-Henri wants a divorce, but Roxeanne refuses. And for much of the resulting interaction between the couple, that impasse remains. In the meantime, Isabel settles in with Roxeanne and, through the family connections meets Edgar (who is Charles-Henri's uncle) and agrees to become his lover.
The divorce battle gets worse as Roxeanne discovers the inequalities that exist in French law regarding marriage settlements. Relationships sour even more between the two, and now compounded by the growing dispute about a La Tour painting owned by Roxeanne's family but which Charles-Henri now half-claims as part of any divorce settlement. Further drama ensues when Tellman (Mathew Modine) shows up, ranting to Roxeanne about Charles-Henri's seduction of Magda, Tellman's wife.
And, in and out of that mess, Isabel becomes more involved with Edgar, much to the annoyance of Edgar's family but, trust the French to be very civilized about Edgar's affairs and the arrival of Roxeanne's parents and brother (Sam Waterston, Stockard Channing and Thomas Lennon, respectively) who have come to support Roxeanne during her difficult time and, just quietly, to help torpedo Charles-Henri's grab for the La Tour art piece, now valued at multi-millions.
The resolution of all these affairs is competently contrived with many scene changes as the plot interweaves between the two couples, one seeking divorce, the other eventually seeking a divorce of a different kind: as Edgar says to Isabel, finally: "I'm too old for you." And, through the latter half of the story, the American and French families intermingle, giving rise to some delicious moments of that humour and irony already mentioned.
The denouement is predictable, but still enjoyable, and marred only by Mathew Modine's somewhat overacted deranged husband; still, his intervention is instrumental and provides the only real suspenseful moments in an otherwise conventional divorce story. The use of Glenn Close, playing Olivia Pace, as a quasi-mentor for Isabel assists with the story development with Edgar and adds some further touches of irony; however, it added little to the story, as a whole.
As you might expect from an Ivory production, the cinematography, editing, and sound are top notch. And the script, although also somewhat predictable, still shows some moments of brilliance; the lunches and dinners with both families in situ were, for me, a real joy to savour. The acting, apart from Modine, is uniformly very good to excellent. This was the first time I'd seen Kate Hudson on the screen and I think she did well opposite Lhermitte. Watts is always worth watching, as are Channing and Close. And, I was very pleasantly surprised to see Leslie Caron once again, as Edgar's mother.
However, with a lot of sub-titles, some people will be turned off from an otherwise English-speaking film, despite the French actors often lapsing into that language. Being a bit of a Francophile, however, I just found it all quite delightful.
There are some mild and brief sex scenes, and nothing offensive, even for adolescents. It's not a film, however, for those who like action/thrillers.