A couple on the verge of divorce visit Paris for a wedding and arrive at a crossroads in French-Japanese co-prod "A Perfect Couple." Pic delivers a double dose of de ja vu for auds who caught Bruni-Tedeschi in similar-themed but better "5x2," while style serves up more single-set-up scenes and murky lensing from Nobuhiro Suwa.

A couple (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi and Bruno Todeschini) on the verge of divorce visit Paris for a wedding and arrive at a crossroads in French-Japanese co-prod “A Perfect Couple.” Pic delivers a double dose of de ja vu for auds who caught Bruni-Tedeschi (fast becoming the arthouse Jill Clayburgh of our time) in similar-themed but better “5×2,” while style serves up more single-set-up scenes and murky lensing from Nobuhiro Suwa, helmer of such glacially paced fare as “H Story” and “M/Other.” Film should win further proposals from fests, but may have irreconcilable differences with all but the most patient auds.

Although Marie (Bruni-Tedeschi) and Nicolas (Todeschini) seem cheerful as they drive into Paris from their home in Portugal, it’s clear from the request for an extra foldout bed in their hotel room that things are not quite right between them. Over dinner with friends Esther (Nathalie Boutefeu) and Vincent (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), Marie and Nicolas smilingly reveal they’re going to get divorced, but remain vague about why.

No easy answers are forthcoming as the couple bickers in between awkward silences. Repeated references to pregnancy and others’ children suggest central couple’s own childlessness has something to do with it, along with the becalmed passion that often sets in after 15 years of togetherness.

At different points, each of them tentatively reaches out toward single people. Nicolas meets with fellow wedding guest Natacha (Joanna Preiss) for a chaste but flirtatious late night drink, while Marie runs into widowed school friend Patrick (Alex Descas) and his son (Emett Descas) at a museum. But by the open end, it’s clear the marriage’s embers are still aglow.

That’s more than can be said for Caroline Champetier’s lighting here, which casts faces into gloom for interminable periods of time, while characters often stubbornly stay offscreen during Suwa’s trademark static, long takes. Periodic blackouts cut in seemingly randomly, often in the middle of scenes, as if the DV camera simply ran out of tape and then thesps were asked to pick improvisatory-sounding dialogue where they left off.

Bruni-Tedeschi gets to cry a bit and adds a bitter sardonic giggle to her repertoire of tics to signify her character’s pain. Given he’s in shadow, seen from behind or in profile, or simply out of shot most of the time, it’s harder to judge Todeschini’s perf.

Rest of tech package is just OK.

A Perfect Couple

France-Japan

Production

An ARTE France, Comme des Cinemas (France) presentation of a Bitters End (Japan) production, in association with Artist Film. (International sales: Comme des Cinemas, Paris.) Produced by Masa Sawada, Masato Shinada. Executive producer, Elise Voitey. Co-producer, Yuji Sadai. Directed, written by Nobuhiro Suwa.

Crew

Camera (color, DV-to-35mm), Caroline Champetier; editors, Dominique Auvray, Hisako Suwa; music, Haruyuki Suzuki; costumes, Elizabeth Mehu; sound supervisor (Dolby Digital), Jean-Claude Laureux. Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (competing), Aug. 9, 2005. Running time: 109 MIN.

With

Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Bruno Todeschini, Nathalie Boutefeu, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Joanna Preiss, Jacques Doillon, Alex Descas, Emett Descas. (French dialogue)
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