Despite their sophistication, two Paris art dealers find juggling wives and mistresses emotionally draining in the engaging tragicomedy “One Stays, the Other Leaves.” Highly autobiographical tale could have been a recipe for cheap melodrama, but excellent thesping under scripter Claude Berri’s sure directorial hand turns a primer on adultery among the well-heeled into an engaging movie that could hook mature audiences everywhere.
At pic’s outset, 20th-century furniture and architecture specialist Daniel (Daniel Auteuil) is celebrating his 16 years of marriage to second wife Isabelle (Laure Duthilleul) in the company of their 15-year-old son, Cedric (Nicolas Choye). Sharing the festivities is dear friend Alain (Pierre Arditi), an African antiquities dealer, who toasts his own 18-year marriage to Fanny (Nathalie Baye).
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The phone rings. Julien (Nicolas Lebovici), Daniel’s concert pianist son from his first marriage to Anne-Marie (Miou-Miou), is in intensive care following a motorcycle accident. The next day, researcher Judith (Charlotte Gainsbourg) arrives for an appointment at Daniel’s gallery to witness him getting devastating news about his son. Daniel can’t conceal his emotion and Judith, perhaps 15 years his junior, is deeply moved by his distress and dignity.
While Daniel and Judith decide, in a nicely depicted, to-and-fro waltz, whether to embark on an affair, Alain is also in way over his head with his gallery assistant, Farida (Aissa Maiga), a feisty Senegalese knockout less than half his age. Devoted to wife Fanny and their teen daughter, Alain is having more and more trouble placating Farida, who wants him all to herself. Alain’s logistical woes are as funny as they are pathetic.
Fanny knows perfectly well that Alain has a mistress and would probably take it in stride if her meddling sister, Nicole (Noemie Lvovsky in a nifty comic turn), didn’t prod her to issue an ultimatum.
Berri looks at male cowardice with a harsh eye, showing that while it’s possible to love two people at the same time, it’s anything but practical. Thesps are simply terrific in conveying that love can materialize at any age and that, while ample cash flow is a handy cushion, emotional reckoning can’t be bought off indefinitely.
In addition to its warts-and-all take on men who want to have their cake and eat it, pic doesn’t shy away from the consequences parental shenanigans may have on children. Berri has stated he drew some of the most wrenching scenes directly from his own life, and the source material is frankly shared in the helmer’s autobiography. Whatever the inspiration, there’s an organic power at work here that makes viewers care about characters they might otherwise dismiss as too spoiled by success.
Among pic’s distinguishing features is its insistence on showing middle-aged men’s bodies as they are. Pic also reps the best contextual excuse ever for a three-foot-long prosthetic penis.
Mix of comedy and drama, skillfully freighted with guilt and desire, is played out in corners of Paris that can only elicit sighs of envy, right down to Berri’s favorite eateries. Tech package is pro, but never gets in the way of keenly depicted interwoven relationships.