Dir. Francois Ozon.France 2004. 90mins.
A kind of Scenes FromA Marriage told in reverse, Francois Ozon's latest feature is a pleasant,watchable but rather unexceptional melodrama that catches wedlock gone stale atfive emblematic moments, starting with the divorce and ending with the firstencounter.
Given Ozon's smoothprofessional touch and a presentable performance from lead ValeriaBruni-Tedeschi, 5 x 2's initial release (it opened in France on Sept 1)may prove quite successful. But it lacks the edge and disturbing twists Ozonhas offered in earlier work like Under The Sand, and as such representsone of his less engrossing and memorable achievements.
Whether it marks a step forhim towards a more commercial and less interesting future, or is merely a briefrespite during which he can catch his breath, still remains to be seen.
Ozon first introduces Gilles(Stepahne Freiss) and Marion (Bruni-Tedeschi), a middle-class couple in theirthirties, in a courtroom, as an obviously bored official reads aloud the legaldetails of their divorce agreement.
Once they half-heartedlygive their consent and are declared officially separated, they withdraw into ahotel room for a final carnal tryst, which, it transpires, is the mostauthentically painful point of the picture.
It is a moment thatsimultaneously carries doubt, unwillingness, sadness and bitterness, as thehusband is forces his favours on his former wife before each, almostregretfully, goes their separate ways.
Retracing the relationship'sroute, the next episode shows them as the cracks in their relationship becomeobvious during the course of an evening at home, while they host Gilles'homosexual brother and his much younger lover. One step further back we seeGilles' failure to provide support and assistance when Marion undergoes aCaesarean birth.
Next, there is a typicalwedding scene, at the end of which Gilles falls asleep fully dressed while thedisappointed Marion goes out to find solace elsewhere. The last episode showsGilles and his previous girlfriend (Geraldine Pailhas), themselves at the endof a long relationship, at an Italian beach resort, where they meet Marion.
Intelligently butdispassionately written as an exercise in reverse narrative - it could almostbe described as an Irreversible for the middle class - Ozon's scriptlacks those intimate details need to flesh out the characters and turn thepiece into something more than an archetypical portrait of failed married life.
Nowhere does he indicateanything more than a certain degree of understanding and sympathy betweenhusband and wife, with real signs of love and passion largely absent.
Ozon also draws hischaracters too broadly: Gilles comes over as somewhat insecure in hisrelationship with women, while Marion proves far more mature, sympathetic andcompassionate. If they do continue living together, then it is mostly becausewhatever ties there were between them were never strong enough in the firstplace.
Indeed, the institution ofmarriage comes out looking pretty badly on the whole, whether it be the centraldisintegration or the relationship between Marion's parents, who are lockedtogether in a love-hate relationship that alternates between tender moments andexplosive spite.
Freiss looks hesitant andrather doubtful as Gilles, but Bruni-Tedeschi's Marion adds to her previousfumbling, apprehensive screen image with a considerable degree of strength,determination and self-control she has not displayed before.
The show is stolen, however,by two veterans, Francoise Fabian and Michel Lonsdale, as Marion's bickeringparents, who obviously have the kind of self-assured thespian confidence theyounger set has yet to achieve.
Technical credits are slickthroughout, if tame and conventional by the standards of Ozon's previous work.There is still though evidence of his trademark style, as with the emotional,but almost self-evident, Italian ballads that bridge episodes.
Prod cos: Productions Fidelite, France 2 Cinema
Int'l sales: Celluloid Dreams
Fr dist: Mars Dist
Prods: Olivier Delbosc, MarcMissonier
Scr: Francois Ozon
Cine: Yorick Le Saux
Ed: Monica Coleman
Prod des: Katia Wyskop
Costs: Pascaline Chavanne
Music: Philippe Rombi
Sound: Benoit Millebrandt
Main cast: ValeriaBruni-Tedeschi, Stephane Freiss, Francoise Fabian, Michel Lonsdale, GeraldinePailhas