A harsh, detailed and ultimately devastating portrait of a woman caught in a trap of her own making, “A Foreign Body,” based on a true story, brings to life the predicament of a woman who announces she’s pregnant even though she isn’t and follows through on the charade for the full gestation period of her imaginary baby. Claire Simon translates her pure docu chops to her first fictionalized dramatic outing with gritty, effective results. Although non-Francophile viewers may find the suspense too protracted, fests and issues-oriented tube settings should take a lively interest.
Mousy, unassertive Magali (Catherine Mendez) is married to radio reporter Alain Maupin (Emmanuel Clarke), who works nights at a station in Nice. Their marriage is tenuous at best, and Alain is planning to accept a yearlong assignment in Canada without his wife when, misled by a series of circumstances, Alain’s boss informs him that his wife, Magali, is expecting their first child. Magali lets the mistaken impression stand.
Although Alain is at first intent on an abortion, the prospect of impending fatherhood revives the relationship to a certain extent. Magali knows she’ll lose Alain if she tells the truth, so she reinforces the (literally) ever-expanding lie, inventing imaginary pains so their sex life will cease and wearing a pillow under her clothes. Magali’s terminally ill father is determined to live long enough to see his grandchild, and Alain’s sister, who regrets her own recent abortion, encourages her sister-in-law’s presumed condition. There’s no turning back.
When Alain goes to Rome for three days to cover a soccer match, Magali, who’s been purposefully vague about her due date, finds a creative if desperate 11th-hour solution. The consequences are extraordinary.
Mendez “delivers” as the woman whose nebulous personality lands her in a tight spot, bombarded by questions she can’t answer and increasingly dismayed by the attention she receives based not on who she is but on what she can provide on the reproductive front. Clarke is fine as the regular-guy hubby who decides to put family before career, and Claude Merlin provides just the right solicitous touch as the boss who accidentally sets the misunderstanding in motion.
Fluid, predominantly hand-held camera roves docu-style and favors close-ups. Archie Shepp’s screeching free-form jazz sax riffs underscore the building unease.