Christophe Honoré returns to Cannes with an impish bedroom farce starring Chiara Mastroianni in the best role she has had in years
Dir/scr: Christophe Honoré. France, Belgium, Luxembourg. 2019. 90 mins
The laws of desire works in mysterious ways in On A Magical Night (Chambre 212), a playful, prickly bedroom farce draped around a marriage in crisis. Unashamedly theatrical and unapologetically fanciful, it may not be for all tastes but casts a warming glow that should attract incurable romantics, nostalgic cinefiles and fans of writer/director Christophe Honoré. The charismatic cast could help to seal the deal in international territories.
A film as charming as it is touching
On A Magical Night feels like Honoré’s version of the Leo McCarey classic The Awful Truth (1937). Stars Cary Grant and Irene Dunne are among those thanked in the credits, along with Woody Allen, Ingmar Bergman and Bertrand Blier. It also seems a close relative of his Love Songs (2007) with an element of Alan Ayckbourn thrown in.
Law lecturer Maria (Chiara Mastroianni) and Richard (Benjamin Biolay) have been married for twenty years. They remain a loving couple and the best of friends but Maria has had a string of affairs with a collection of handsome younger men. She returns home one winter’s evening, showering away the traces of her latest indiscretion as a frumpy, unsuspecting Richard prepares dinner and fills the washing machine. A text message on Maria’s phone alerts him to her infidelity. What she dismisses as a bit of fun, he regards as a complete betrayal.
Can the marriage survive without trust? Maria leaves in the middle of the night and checks into a hotel room directly opposite their Montparnasse apartment. She hopes it will let her see Richard and their life from a different perspective..
Honoré takes inspiration from Dickens’ ’A Christmas Carol’ and It’s A Wonderful Life as he tries to solve a problem like Maria. Over the course of one night, as snow gently tumbles and the hazy street lights soften all the sharp edges of the city, she receives a host of visitors determined to share exactly what they think of her and the decisions she has made. Those visitors include the handsome young Richard (Vincent Lacoste) who she fell in love with years ago and the piano teacher Irene (Camille Cottin) that Richard claims may have been the love of his life.
On A Magical Night observes some of the door-slamming traditions of farce as characters tumble into bed, hotel doors revolve and identities are challenged. Honoré pushes the boundaries even further as characters interact with younger versions of themselves and face the music from finger-wagging parents and old lovers.
Impeccably crafted throughout, it is studded with affectionate movie references (the local bar is called Rosebud) and floats along on a soundtrack that runs the gamut from Vivaldi to songs by Charles Aznavour and Caterina Valente. You constantly expect someone to burst into song or go into their dance and it is Camille Cottin’s Irene who eventually obliges with a plaintive version of Barry Manilow’s ’Could It Be Magic’.
Surrounded by a great cast, including Carole Bouquet as the older Irene, it is Chiara Mastroianni who bewitches. Maria is one of her best roles in years and she shows all the flair of a great screwball comedy star in playing the light and shade of this strong, independent women.
Beneath the impish, inventive surface of On A Magical Night lies real emotions around loyalty, devotion and how to ensure love never dies. It is a film as charming as it is touching.
Production companies: Les Films Pelléas, France 2 Cinéma, Scope Pictures, Bidibul Productions
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Producers: David Thion, Philippe Martin
Cinematography: Rémy Chevrin
Editor: Chantal Hymans
Production designer: Stéphane Taillasson
Main cast: Chiara Mastroianni, Vincent Lacoste, Carole Bouquet