Dir/scr. SobuhiroSuwa. Fr-Jap. 2005. 104mins.
Tailor-made for film festivals and those with apenchant for obscure material, Sobuhiro Suwa's A Perfect Couple is the sort offeature that will deter audiences whose patience is tried by films that delaydelivering their message.
Shot in Paris with aFrench cast, this chiaroscuro (more scuro than chiaro) portrait of a marriedcouple on the brink of separation may pretend to be universal but in practicecarries a strong French flavour, as the husband and wife verbalise their crisisand show themselves in constant doubt about the decision they have alreadytaken to part ways.
Deploying minimalnatural light sources and with mostly static shots that seem to go on forever,the approach confirms again Suwa's reputation at dealing with family matters inunfamiliar ways: admirable in the eyes of some viewers but infuriating for therest.
Nicolas (BrunoTodeschini) and Marie (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi), a married couple who have beenliving abroad for several years, fly into Paris for a friend's marriage,although they have previously decided to end their relationship.
They take a hotelroom together, but sleep separately; later, after an argument, they go to meettheir friends and immediately tell them they are getting a divorce.
Back in the hotel,after another argument, Nicolas heads out to cool off and drink in a bar. Thenhe is approached by an older man (Gerard-Henri Durand) who engages him in aphilosophical conversation about life, death and the passing of time.
Later he accompaniesEsther (Nathalie Boutefeu), one of the girls he meets at the subsequentwedding, to her home but does not stay. On his return to the hotel he isquestioned by Marie about where he has been.
The next day shestumbles on an old friend at the Rodin museum and discusses what has happenedsince they last met. She returns to tell Nicolas the relationship is over andallows him to drive her to the station. Thus the picture ends in asinconclusive a manner as it has proceeded all along.
But from the veryfirst shot, the audience has been warned of the film ahead. The camera gazesthrough a closed window at Nicolas and Marie as they drive along, reflectingthe street and barely allowing a glimpse at their silhouettes. The sound is acombination of street noises and the couple's voices, muffled by the window andbarely audible amid the heavy traffic.
It continues likethis for several minutes, by the end of which any audience members unpreparedfor what will follow should have left.
Those who remain, however,will be left with a feature that is visually stronger on atmosphere than actualcontours.
There is a distinctattempt to achieve a similar effect with the dialogue, which Suwa - whoconcedes that he doesn't really understand French - regards more as a componentof sound than any exchange of ideas.
The visits to themuseum allow him to introduce some of the French master's more meaningful worksabout couples, while an off-screen voice acts as a guide, relating thetempestuous relationship between Rodin and Camille Claudel, the source of muchof his inspiration. There is plenty of time to reflect on these and many othermatters, given the pace at which Suwa takes the film.
To his credit, Suwadraws particularly life-like, natural performances from both Bruni-Tedeschi andTodeschini. Each blames the other for the crisis they're in, as they try tounderstand and justify their decisions and haltingly struggle to expressthemselves,
But more often thannot they fail to find the right words and ultimately indulge, throughexasperation, in bouts of petulance and annoyance.
Technical creditsare hardly up to Hollywood standards - this is, after all, anything but astandard film - but for Suwa's purposes, they are perfect. The images arefuzzy, the sound is murky, the non-existent action moves at a snail's pace andyou can hardly distinguish the characters on the screen or decipher what theyare saying to each other - even if you're fluent in French. But hang it in amuseum and, all of a sudden, it all makes sense.
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