A relatively sober, deftly told tale of coupledom for grown-ups, "5x2" starts on the day a divorce is pronounced and works its way backward, alighting on important moments in the relationship. Pre-sold in many territories on the strength of writer-director Francois Ozon's reputation, pic should perform reasonably well in Gaul and beyond.

A relatively sober, deftly told tale of coupledom for grown-ups, “5×2″ starts on the day a divorce is pronounced and works its way backward, alighting on important moments in the relationship. Excellent perfs and writer-director Francois Ozon’s sure, unfussy way with the camera add up to a viewing experience whose richness depends in large part on how much the viewer reads into the human templates on display. Pre-sold in many territories on the strength of Ozon’s reputation, pic, which competes in Venice the day after its Sept. 1 opening in France, should perform reasonably well in Gaul and beyond.

Pic is authoritatively wrenching from the first frame as the details of the divorce decree separating Marion (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) and Gilles (Stephane Freiss) are read aloud. Each party has reclaimed personal belongings; their 4-year-old son will live with his mother, with equitable visits from Dad.

After signing the papers, Marion and Gilles repair to a hotel room. There, a long scene as powerful as it is strange transpires. Without visual fanfare, pic embarks on a reverse chronology spanning the years between this admission of failure and the moment the protags met and anything seemed possible. Title refers to “5” developments in the lives of its “2” central characters.

Pic is subtle, yet cumulatively harsh, in its insights into human behavior. It integrates ordinary pleasures, anxiety, joy, doubt and loneliness into a slightly melancholy portrait that’s deceptively simple but never dull. Although Ozon is out to tell a story about straight people, homosexual overtones hover. Auds will have to decide whether the couple portrayed is uniquely French or more universal.

After getting a glimpse of Marion and Gilles’ son, the viewer hears a perversely intriguing story at a dinner party the couple is hosting for Gilles’ gay brother, Christophe (Antoine Chappey), and his latest b.f., Mathieu (Marc Ruchmann). Continuing to travel back through time, the audience is privy to the circumstances of the child’s birth, witnesses a highly unconventional feature of the couple’s wedding night and finally see what drew Marion and Gilles together in the first place.

The countdown format adds a certain poignancy to everything that’s shown, but there’s no punchline or culminating revelation. Everything that happens is perfectly credible and no single event points to the inevitability of divorce. There’s nary an “Ah-ha!” in sight, just human strengths and weaknesses in the course of a garden-variety heterosexual union.

In the press notes, Ozon says he joked on set, “We start off like Bergman and end up like Lelouch.” This isn’t such a bad way of admitting that the greatest intensity infuses the beginning of the film (including a trick or two borrowed from “Scenes From a Marriage”), and that each of the five titular episodes reps a different broad category of approaches to filmic storytelling.

Bruni-Tedeschi and Freiss are completely believable as a couple. Francoise Fabian and Michael Lonsdale register keenly as Marion’s parents, and Geraldine Pailhas is fine as Gilles’ prior g.f.

Except for its reverse structure, Ozon’s seventh feature in as many years is definitely his most conventional work. These are normal characters anchored in the real world.

Italian pop songs surge forth as ironic punctuation.

5x2

France

Production

A Mars Distribution release of a Fidelite presentation of a Fidelite, France 2 Cinema, FOZ production, with participation of Canal Plus. (International sales: Celluloid Dreams, Paris.) Produced by Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonier. Directed by Francois Ozon. Screenplay, Ozon, Emmanuele Bernheim.

Crew

Camera (color), Yorick Le Saux; editor, Monica Coleman; music, Philippe Rombi; production designer, Katia Wyszkop; costume designer, Pascaline Chavanne; sound (Dolby), Jean-Pierre Laforce, Jean-Pierre Duret, Brigitte Tallandier; assistant director, Hubert Barbin; casting, Antoinette Boulat. Reviewed at Publicis Champs-Elysees, Paris, June 15, 2004. (Also in Venice Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Stephane Freiss, Geraldine Pailhas, Francoise Fabian, Michael Lonsdale, Antoine Chappey, Marc Ruchmann, Jason Tavassoli, Jean-Pol Brissart.

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