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Comedies, French Cinema, People, Romance, Stars

Delicacy (Délicatesse, France 2011)

The beautiful Audrey Tautou

I enjoyed this film very much. What struck me most forcefully was how Audrey Tautou has become even more beautiful as she has aged. In the first part of the film I was worried that she was being asked to again play the part of the gamine – which I know turns many audiences off – but in later scenes she is allowed to play closer to her real age and with her hair down I find her stunningly attractive. And can anyone wear pencil skirts and glide down a corridor in heels like Audrey? Ms Tautou reminds me of the stars of the studio period. She plays close to her star persona in each role. If you don’t find that persona appealing, you’ll probably have problems with her performances as a whole.

Delicacy is supposedly a rom-com but it bears little resemblance to Hollywood romcoms. I’d describe it as more like a romantic comedy drama. Audrey is Natalie, who in the first brief section of the film is married to her dreamboat, but then quickly widowed. The narrative proper then deals with her attempt to ‘live again’ which is accomplished with the sweet Markus (nicely played by François Damiens), the bumbling but charming Swedish worker who becomes part of her office team.

Delicacy is the first feature from the brothers David and Stéphane Foenkinos. Stéphane  has experience mainly as an actor and as a casting director. David has joined his brother on just a couple of projects, but his was the novel on which this screenplay is based. The novel has been extremely popular in France and in her (recommended) Sight and Sound review (May 2012), Catherine Wheatley tells us that the screenplay was written more or less with Audrey Tautou in mind and its overall tone and feel draws strongly from that sense of the quirky, the mischievous and sometimes the possibility of darkness that Audrey embodies. (I’m reminded of that minor masterpiece À la folie . . . pas du toutHe Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, 2002.)

Natalie and Markus (François Damiens)

The problem for many Hollywood romcoms is that they swing between blandness and sweetness – or they react against this and deal in cruelty or crudity. Subtlety and lightness are hard to sustain. I think Delicacy manages to combine some contradictory qualities very well and that’s what makes it satisfying. Because this is a first-time effort for the brothers Foenkinos they arguably try out a range of narrative devices and some work better than others but I think that freshness and originality is to be applauded. The main issue with the film seems to be with Markus and the assumption – by other characters in the narrative and by some audiences – that he can’t be attractive. He’s balding, slightly podgy and tends to wear sweaters to work. He’s also Swedish and self-deprecating (there are some good jokes about Swedishness). None of this rules him out as a warm-blooded human being that Natalie can respond to.

As one of my friends put it, Delicacy offers a pleasant and engaging evening’s entertainment. We enjoyed it as part of our escape from the jubilee nonsense in the UK and it worked a treat.

Discussion

2 thoughts on “Delicacy (Délicatesse, France 2011)

  1. I could have done with seeing this film as a distraction from the Olympics a few weeks ago but we didn’t get a screening where I live so had to await the DVD. I was interested in Roy’s take on the ‘gamine’ persona Tautou is often given/constructs and I think he’s right that the film gains by a more mature performance after the loss of her husband.

    There is a French adjective which described the Tautou persona: “farfelu”, which is not quite captured by the obvious English equivalents (wacky, eccentric, scatty, airy etc); and it’s a persona which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. I think it was successful in box-office terms in France partly because it had/has a certain appeal to what they call “la France profonde”, the traditional, rural, ‘small-c’ conservative audience (the kind of audience which adores singers Johnny Hallyday and Mireille Mathieu) and who represent a significant proportion of the cinema-going audience in France ; and we have to bear in mind that most French cinema-goers are more likely to go and see a domestic comedy such as Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis/ Welcome to the Sticks (Dany Boon, 2008) which had the biggest audience in the history of French cinema, rather than the more demanding fare we often associate with French cinema). I suspect that the positive reception accorded to the Tautou persona had much to do with a reaction to phenomena such as “Loft Story”, a reality TV show which pushed the boundaries further than Big Brother did here, and also explicit films such as Baise-Moi/Fuck Me (Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi, 2000) and various films by Catherine Breillat

    This persona worked well in Venus Beauty (Institute) (Toni Morrison, 1999), and Amelie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001) but deployed inappropriately it can kill a film. I’m thinking in particular of Un long dimanche de fiançailles/A Very Long Engagement (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2004) based on what I felt was an excellent novel by Sébastien Japrisot. It is about a young woman during the First World War who searches for her fiancé who is supposed to have died in the trenches but she is convinced is alive. Some of the scenes at the front and in the trenches are very powerful but behind the lines it was Tautou in “Amelie goes off to war” mode. And despite very good performances from Jodie Foster and Marillon Cotillard, the tone just wasn’t appropriate to the material. I think it was the wrong star or perhaps Jean-Pierre Jeunet wasn’t the ideal director for such material.

    The reference to A la folie, pas du tout . . . is an apt one as Tautou showed another side of her persona (and not the “dark side of ‘Amelie’” as one tag line I saw has it.) She doesn’t have to kill off the wacky personality – the example of Shirley MacLaine shows that some stars can keep it going well into maturity – but keep it well under control.

    There is another aspect of Delicatesse I found interesting (though marginal to the main concerns of the film), that of casting. Audrey Fleurot had a tiny part as the secretary of the Tautou character’s boss. She has been in Engrenages/Spiral, a ‘polar’ (cop show) since its first season in 2005 as Josephine Klarson, a crooked lawyer, and her part is one of the most interesting in the show and is likely to be expanded for Season 4. I suspect the anti-TV snobbery (in relation to cinema) is even stronger in France than here so that even well-known TV actors have to “pay their dues” in tiny film parts. At least she got some lines in this film; her role in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (I’ve just re-seen it on DVD and didn’t even notice her) is described in the credits as “party-goer”!

    PS. Maybe things are looking up for her. I’ve just noticed she’s got third billing in Intouchables/The Untouchables, which is since its release last November, the second biggest box-office success in the history of French film, just behind Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis.

    Posted by des1967 | August 27, 2012, 12:15
    • Great stuff, Des. I’m pleased to see that Intouchables is finally going to get a release in the UK in the Autumn. It has been an enormous success around the world and its global b.o. currently stands at over $365 million. I don’t really understand why we get it last of all the major territories.

      Posted by Roy Stafford | August 27, 2012, 15:44

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