'Delicacy'

After an out-of-the-blue French kiss, a slobby Swede becomes the unlikely love interest of a widowed Gallic gamine in "Delicacy."

After an out-of-the-blue French kiss, a slobby Swede becomes the unlikely love interest of a widowed Gallic gamine in “Delicacy.” Helmed by brothers and tyro helmers Stephane and David Foenkinos, and based on the latter’s eponymous bestseller, the pic tries to graft some moments of “Amelie”-like whimsy, romance and gentle comedy onto what’s essentially a chaste and slow-moving melodrama. French Christmas release opened to midrange numbers and has been presold to almost 20 territories. Cohen Media Group is eyeing a spring release in the U.S.

The prolonged, upbeat opening focuses on the fairy-tale romance and marriage of Francois (Pio Marmai) and Nathalie (Tautou). They have it all: a meet-cute (involving apricot juice), a wedding under the snow (captured in a whirling dolly shot), cute voiceovers, good looks and their entire lives ahead of them.

But when Francois dies in a jogging accident, Nathalie’s life suddenly turns dark (as do her clothes). In lieu of mourning, for three years she dedicates herself completely to her job at a Paris-based Swedish firm in an unidentified line of business, though the office’s light wood paneling and marble stairs suggest northern efficiency without a hint of passion or emotion.

Nathalie’s life, and the movie, are finally thrown for a loop about a half-hour in when, on a whim, she decides to kiss Markus (Francois Damiens), a Swedish colleague who’s fluent in French. A balding man with a toothy smile and a range of grandpa sweaters in different shades of beige, Markus is immediately smitten with her. And though Nathalie’s entourage, led by her best friend (Josephine de Meaux, playing a character not actually in the novel), frowns on her choice of this nondescript co-worker, something in the petite, dark-haired worker bee has reawakened.

In transferring his novel to the screen, David Foenkinos has opted for a tripartite structure that clearly delineates what auds should feel: utter wonder and happiness, followed by shock and sorrow and then, ever so gradually, a sense of returning to the world of the living. In an almost two-hour film, it all comes off as a little too schematic and neat, with only two well-realized fantasy sequences, both involving Markus, offering something that works better onscreen than it would on the page.

Tautou is fine but clearly typecast as another whimsical pixie with strong melancholy undercurrents. The choice of Belgian comedian-turned-thesp Damiens (“The Wolberg Family,” “Nothing to Declare”) as a bumbling but sincere John Doe is more inspired, and can probably be credited to Stephane Foenkinos, a casting director whose credits include “Midnight in Paris.”

Damiens’ moments of comedy are few but welcome, though they could have been integrated better into the story; the sight of him jogging in too-tight shorts is funny but otherwise unconnected to the narrative (or the fact Francois died while running). The ensemble is also impressive, including Bruno Todeschini as Nathalie’s pushy boss, Ariane Ascaride as Nathalie’s mom, and de Meaux, who breathes some life into a stock best-friend role.

Lenser Remy Chevrin is big on bright lights, while production design and costumes overemphasize Nathalie’s darker and brighter moments. New Age-y music and songs by singer-songwriter Emilie Simon (who wrote the original “March of the Penguins” score) rep one of the pic’s more original touches.

Delicacy

France

Production

A Cohen Media Group (in U.S.)/Studiocanal (in France) release of a 2.4.7. Films, Studiocanal, France 2 Cinema production, in association with Canal Plus, Cine Plus, France Televisions, with the participation of Panache Prods., La Compagnie Cinematographique Europeenne. (International sales: Studiocanal, Paris.) Produced by Xavier Rigault, Marc-Antoine Robert. Directed by David Foenkinos, Stephane Foenkinos. Screenplay, David Foenkinos, based on his novel.

Crew

Camera (color, 35mm-to-HD), Remy Chevrin; editor, Virginie Bruant; music, Emilie Simon; production designer, Maamar Ech-Cheikh; costume designer, Emmanuelle Youchnovski; sound, Daniel Sobrino, Nicolas Moreau; assistant director, Luc Bricault. Reviewed at Cine Utopia, Luxembourg, Jan. 1, 2012. Running time: 109 MIN.

With

Audrey Tautou, Francois Damiens, Bruno Todeschini, Melanie Bernier, Josephine de Meaux, Pio Marmai, Monique Chaumette, Marc Citti, Alexandre Pavloff, Vittoria Scognamiglio, Olivier Cruveiller, Audrey Fleurot, Ariane Ascaride. (French, Swedish dialogue)

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