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For Your Consideration: 'Delicacy'

Last summer, rumors started to float about because Audrey Tautou, the jolie môme of French cinema, had made some noises about quitting the screen for good. Whether it happened sooner or later, one interviewer wrote, "if you want to see Tautou on screen again, you shouldn’t hang about." Your latest chance opens today, La délicatesse, made last year by brothers Stéphane Foenkinos and David Foenkinos, adapted by the latter from his own novel, which was extremely popular in France. Tautou stars as Nathalie Kerr, a beautiful woman who has shut herself off from life after the premature death of her husband. This is not a great film by any means, a lesser example of the sort of quirky romantic comedy that is a specialty of French directors. Happily, this is not yet the end of Tautou's career: she is also working on other projects, with French directors, most notably in L'écume des jours, a new film by Michel Gondry (La science des rêves). That should be a good match.

Les frères Foenkinos followed a strange formula for a romantic comedy, in that half of the movie sets up the fairytale marriage of Nathalie with her late husband, François, played with scruffy appeal by Pio Marmaï. Happily, this does not turn into a French remake of Ghost. In reaction to her beloved husband's death, Nathalie throws herself into her work, for a vast and strange Swedish company in Paris, whose business is never really specified (nor does it need to be). The smarmy boss who hires her, played with sebaceous suavity by Bruno Todeschini, swoops in after her husband's death, hoping to consummate the attraction he has always felt. He has one of the best scenes of the film, when he is dressed down by Nathalie after a disastrous dinner of failed seduction.

In the film, the camera is seduced by Tautou, following her closely, documenting the line of her legs, her slender form, the curls of her hair (cinematography by Rémy Chevrin). Although Nathalie seems to have become cold to the influence of love, it is reawakened in the least expected of places, a plain and even unattractive man on her team at work, Markus. He is a good egg, though, a warm heart who makes Nathalie and us laugh. Nathalie's grandmother in the suburbs -- played with open-hearted sweetness by Monique Chaumette -- recognizes it immediately, saying about a minute after meeting him that he has "un bon front," a nice face. As played by Belgian actor François Damiens (who debuted with Jean Dujardin in OSS 117: Le Caire, nid d'espions) -- he has to make an approximation of speaking Swedish at one point in a funny scene with his parents visiting from Sweden -- he is an awkward shambles, a sad sack with the good luck of being in the right place at the right time, probably for the first time in his life.

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In an interview in Paris Match, David Foenkinos identifies the subject of his story as "l’étrangeté de l’amour." Nathalie's friends and co-workers struggle to understand why Nathalie, so beautiful and so successful, would fall for someone like Markus, but the point is that love, sometimes, is blind. She tries to make it go away, trying to explain to Markus in straight-laced business cant, to which he responds, "Vous parlez comme une américaine. C'est jamais de bon signe" (You're speaking like an American. That's never a good sign). He perseveres, however, encouraged hilariously by watching a televised speech by then-candidate Barack Obama, about how "our time has come," causing him to sit up in bed with a big, goofy smile.

Also from the interview in Paris Match--

Stéphane Foenkinos: "En fait, ce film est “driste” : à la fois drôle et triste."

Audrey Tautou: "Par rapport à la chronologie de l’histoire… moi je dirais que c’est un film plus 'trôle' que 'driste' !"
The screenplay is not always so ingenious but it has its moments, as when Markus declares that he is going to stop looking at Nathalie to save himself possible pain ("Je me protège," he says, apparently in earnest). When he spends conversations with his head turned to one side, she says, "Vous aurez mal au cou comme ça" (You'll give yourself a neck ache like that), to which he answers, "Je préfère mal au cou qu'au cœur" (I prefer an ache in the neck more than in the heart). The sound of those syllables, "cou qu'au cœur," which Tautou repeats, are particularly funny because they are so grandiose and sing-songy at the same time. The score, by Emilie Simon, adds the same sort of pop whimsy, with some quasi-minimalist, gamelan-style percussive cues and a few whimsical songs. Not a life-transforming movie but a charming one.

This film opens tonight exclusively at the Landmark Bethesda Row cinema.

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