Nathalie ...(2003) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
We disagreed on this one. Tuna found it to be arthouse crap, while
Scoop - no passionate lover of arthouse cinema - found himself
surprised to be involved in it.
I have to admire the French for continuing to produce so many films, when they only have one actor in the entire French cinema to go around. Yes, we again have Gérard Depardieu, a successful businessman this time, and married to a gynecologist (Fanny Ardant). When he misses his own surprise party, then leaves his cell phone home, Fanny listens to his messages, including the one from his "missed flight" the night before, thanking him for the great sex.
She confronts, he admits, but says it meant nothing. So Ardant does what any wife would do in this case. She hires hooker Emmanuelle Béart to seduce him, then report back to her. So, when Béart isn't busy with her day job as a hair dresser, or her night job in a private gentlemen's club, she reports all the lurid details of her sex with Depardieu. That is pretty much it, except for the very French ending.
This film is a very French love story, I suppose. The entire film is about oral sex - not in the sense of oral/genital contact, but in the sense of talking about sex. Wendy Ide of the London Times wrote the review I wanted to. Like Wendy, I though the film was utter crap, start to finish.
Hey, c'mon. The French have more than one leading man. There are actually four: Jean Reno, Daniel Auteuil, Depardieu, and Tcheky Karyo. This puts a tremendous strain on them, since one or more must appear in every French movie. Thus, Karyo has been in 86 films, Auteuil 78, Reno 65, and the seemingly ubiquitous Depardieu in 155. Charlie, our expert on French Cinema, says, "You forgot to name Depardieu's only rival as lead actor in every French movie: Michel Serrault, with a mere 153 entries at IMDb. He is older than Depardieu, but he did not get the support of US film-makers to reach this mark." To put Depardieu's number in perspective, consider that Michael Caine, who is nearly 200 years old and seems to have appeared in every movie since the Lumieres first projected their little experimental films, has actually been in "only" 129 films, and Gene Hackman has been in a mere 96! Even Eric Roberts, who never turns a job down, has only been able to accumulate 146 acting credits at IMDb. The French had better find some new actors soon, because those first four guys were all born between 1948 and 1953, and Serrault is twenty years older. Some of the others are in decent shape and may last a while, but Depardieu can't have that much longer before his mammoth body collapses - maybe only fifty or sixty more movies.
In response to Tuna's notes, I liked The Observer's review better than the Times. "Only in France could this bourgeois gibberish be passed off as anything other than rank intellectual masturbation." Kind of cuts to the chase. doesn't it?
You know, the cultural relationship between France and the USA is an odd one. The two countries kind of pretend to despise one another, and yet they seem to have a psychological link between them. Case in point: the reviews for this movie. Tuna cited The Times, and I quoted The Observer, and those two were quite typical of the British press. The Mail, The Telegraph, The Guardian, and The Express wrote equally harsh reviews. The Guardian summed up: "The sheer smugness of this movie, its fatuous belief in how daringly sophisticated it is, can't be overestimated. It is like a nightmare parody of French cinema with almost every visual and dramatic cliché present and correct."
And yet ... the American critics bought into the film. The Metacritic score is a very respectable 69/100, with no score lower than 50/100. It seems to me that the American and French intelligentsia often get on a common wavelength that excludes the UK. Tuna took the same position as the Brit-crits, that the film is utter merde Française, but I kind of found myself on the film's wavelength. I think the language barrier made it difficult to appreciate the erotic power of the film. As Tuna points out, the film consists entirely of people talking about sex, but sex-talk in a foreign language sounds like any other kind of talk - just gibberish. Imagine, if you will, that Gwyneth Paltrow had played the prostitute, and reported back to the wife about explicit sex acts in the coarsest, steamiest words she could think of, but totally matter-of-factly. "And then he fucked me in the ass, and screamed with excitement when he came deep inside." "He came all over my face." Do you think you might get turned on by that? I'm pretty sure I would. But I just had to use my imagination when watching this film, since they were actually speaking French, and they might just as well have been saying, "And then he asked me for another glass of Chamomile tea," or some other phrase that might have come from a Jane Austen novel.
Tuna is right, by the way, in that some of the film's propositions are difficult to accept.
Perhaps "no" to the first two, but I think the "wife hires hooker" angle was not so implausible. Ardant's character used to love sex with her husband, and the two of them are clearly still in love, even though they may not realize it. By having the hooker report back to her, Ardant is simply experiencing sex with her husband vicariously, imagining the way it used to be for real. The hooker's reports turn her on, and re-awaken her own sexuality. However, to return to reality for a moment, let me add that Ardant is a gynecologist, and I find it unlikely that a woman in that profession would want her husband to sleep with hookers.
The film ends with three major plot twists in the last five minutes, none of which was quite as surprising as the director seemed to think. (There's that smugness The Guardian was talking about.) And yet, I felt that all three of the twists were earned by the moments and events that had gone before, and worked in context. I found the ending(s) to be sad in a way, but sad in the way that a film should make you sad, and also sexy and hopeful.
I thought it was a pretty decent movie. It's slow and gallingly Gallic, and some scenes seem to serve no purpose at all, but it kept me engaged in the characters, and I'm pretty sure it would have turned me on significantly if I could understand French.
Notes on the venerable actresses:
Fanny Ardant. I know it is fashionable to say that Charlotte Rampling is the world's sexiest granny, but Rampling does nothing for me, and I think Ardant is still mighty attractive for a 57-year-old woman, and she combines elegance and warmth, while Rampling has only the glacial elegance. If I had to choose a granny for a romantic weekend, Ardant would be my choice.
Emmanuelle Beart. What is the deal with this woman? She hasn't aged a minute since 1983. It's amazing what botox and surgery can do these days. Somewhere, a portrait of Emmanuelle Beart is looking very old.
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