Well-cast but underwritten ensembler centered on family, friends and other animals who gather for a rural wedding in scenic southern France. Sophomore pic by writer-director Valerie Guignabodet aims at a bittersweet reflection on the spousal state. Film has done cheery biz in Gaul but may be too inconsequential (or not fluffy enough) for offshore auds.

Marriage is, well, a funky thing in “Mariages!” a well-cast but underwritten ensembler centered on family, friends and other animals who gather for a rural wedding in scenic southern France. Sophomore pic by writer-director Valerie Guignabodet, after her quirky black comedy about a man and a lifesize doll, “Monique” (2002), aims at a bittersweet reflection on the spousal state across three generations but ends up more as a series of tantrums across a fraught 24 hours. Film has done cheery biz in Gaul since opening April 21 but may be too inconsequential (or not fluffy enough) for offshore auds.

It’s the morning of the nuptials of young Johanna (Chloe Lambert) and Benjamin (Alexis Loret), both 25, and while the former is in the bath prior to her extensive makeup, the latter is still coming round, covered in lipstick after a night of carousing. Johanna’s highly organized mom, Gabrielle (Miou-Miou), is already fussing about the ceremony and entertainment at her sprawling home, while Benjamin’s more declasse mother, Chantal (Catherine Allegret), is prepping for a taut confrontation with Gabrielle over the cost-sharing. As the latter says, “It’s going to be a strange weekend.”

Also on hand are the two marriage witnesses, steely Valentine (Mathilde Seigner) and cynical Alex (Jean Dujardin), both 35. Their marriage is decidedly rocky, and Valentine is particularly upset when she says she’s been having an affair for four months and he hasn’t even noticed. When she won’t tell him who her lover is, Alex calmly clobbers the first man she talks to.

One generation up is the marriage of Micky (Lio) and Hugo (Antoine Dulery), both 45, who went through their own firestorm 10 years ago when Micky threatened to leave him. She now submerges her sadness in obsessive buoyancy and caring, while Hugo, who once had a relationship with Gabrielle, drifts around in a well-coifed, philosophical calm.

Completing the pack of main protags is Pierre (Didier Bezace), Gabrielle’s smooth ex, who turns up with a Polish blonde half his age (Beata Nilska) and can’t even remember exactly how old Johanna is. But she dotes on her father and, despite Gabrielle’s unease, is proud he’s come to give her away.

First half is lively enough as the characters shift into position and stake out their attitudes, with Alex, especially, repping the voice of cynicism about marriage. Hairline fractures start to appear when both Johanna and Benjamin take a tad too long to say “oui” at the ceremony — and the merde hits the fan during dinner when Alex (and all the guests) finds out who Valentine’s lover is.

However, the script also starts to fracture along with the false bonhomie, and helmer Guignabodet gives the impression of not being able to satisfactorily mesh the strands she’s laid out. After the strange diversionary tactic of introducing a transvestite entertainer (Michel Dussarat) at a comparatively late stage, pic whips up an unconvincing climax centered on Johanna and Benjamin.

By this time, several more interesting characters, like Gabrielle, Micky and Pierre, have effectively been left stranded by the screenplay. Result is a not very balanced meal, despite a fine spread of hors d’oeuvres.

Even if their roles remain undeveloped, Miou-Miou and Bezace impart a classy touch to the proceedings as the bride’s parents, and Lio makes one wish for more time spent on the joyously sad character of Micky. Dujardin, especially in the early stages, is good as Alex, though his sour apothegms (“It’s not marriage that kills; it’s life together”) lack a little in cutting edge. Dialogue, similarly, is entertaining without being honed to the max.

Tech credits are standard. Color processing is less than classy, like a TV movie blown up from 16mm.

Mariages!

France

Production

A Pan-Europeenne Distribution release of a Pan-Europeenne Prod., StudioCanal, France 2 Cinema, Rhone-Alpes Cinema production, with participation of Canal Plus, CineCinema. (International sales: StudioCanal, Paris.) Produced by Philippe Godeau. Directed, written by Valerie Guignabodet.

Crew

Camera (color), Pierre Aim; editor, Thierry Derocles; music, Fabrice Aboulker; music supervisor, Valerie Lindon; art director, Therese Ripaud; costumes, Fabienne Katany; sound (Dolby SRD), Jean Minondo, William Flageollet; assistant director, Jean-Christophe Delpias; casting, Olivier Carbone. Reviewed at Gaumont Ambassades, Paris, May 2, 2004. (In Cannes Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Mathilde Seigner, Jean Dujardin, Miou-Miou, Didier Bezace, Lio, Antoine Dulery, Chloe Lambert, Alexis Loret, Michel Lagueyrie, Marianne Groves, Catherine Allegret, Beata Nilska, Frederic Maranber, Michel Dussarat, Gilles Gaston-Dreyfus, Simon Astier.
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