Funny, charming and sprinkled with a gentle touch of magic, this bittersweet dramedy has a title with more than one meaning. Star Audrey Tautou is a rare delicacy as Nathalie, an almost otherworldly young widow who is hesitant about allowing herself to fall in love again. Also, this French film treats that process with a languidly unhurried delicacy that literally is foreign to Hollywood’s more frantic romantic sensibilities.
David Foenkinos adapted the sweetly offbeat screenplay from his bestselling novel, and serves as co-director with brother Stéphane Foenkinos. While Tautou’s elfin adorableness forever will bring to mind her signature role as the mischievous Amélie in the 2001 movie of the same name, Delicacy is a more restrained and less stylistically playful look at love. Its bits of whimsy are balanced by moments of real melancholy.
Nathalie is an unspecified-occupation executive whose handsome ideal husband François (Pio Marmaï) is killed in an offscreen accident. Inconsolably grief-stricken, she struggles over deleting his number from her phone, but finally throws out everything he owned. (The most unlikely item she tosses in a trash bag is his laptop computer, with no apparent consideration for its possibly irreplaceable contents or the thing’s monetary value. This new cinematic grief cliche seemed equally dubious when Michael Fassbender did the same thing in last year’s Shame.)
Nathalie insists she isn’t suicidal, but notes that “people make me feel like a sort of explosive: handle with care.” Her sophisticated boss Charles (Bruno Todeschini), however, finds himself even more attracted to her than before Nathalie lost her vivaciousness and became a no-social-life workaholic. “Tragedy makes her even more beautiful,” he appreciatively notes. Charles tries making his move when he takes Nathalie out for a promotion dinner, saying he would divorce his wife for her, but she coldly spurns his advances.
Something in Nathalie’s subconscious apparently forces her to break out of her zombie-like shell and seek human contact, however. In a moment of cinematic magic-realism, she rises like a sleepwalker from her desk to kiss the very unremarkable Markus (François Damiens), a shy and pleasantly flabbergasted Swedish co-worker.
Although Nathalie later can’t remember the act, Markus is thoroughly smitten. “Let’s just forget it,” she suggests. “You sound like an American,” Markus replies. “That’s a bad sign.”
Damiens is perfect as the adoring and hopeful Markus, whose position at the company is several rungs below Nathalie’s. He’s big and kind of schlubby but good-natured, and their courtship is believably awkward and hesitant. Jealous Charles, baffled that Nathalie could prefer Markus to him, humorously tries to figure out the mysteries of the human heart.
The movie’s excellent score is composed of an album’s worth of new songs by French musician Emilie Simon, who sounds something like a continental hybrid of Kate Bush and Bjork. (For soundtrack samples at Simon’s website, click here.) From the recurring music-box theme “Mon Chevalier” to the ’50s-throwback “I Call It Love” to the electro-pop “Franky’s Princess,” the variety of tracks perfectly complements Nathalie’s changing moods and situations.
[Rating: 4 stars]
Delicacy (La Délicatesse) is released Friday March 16 2012 in New York. UK release April 13, 2012. Australia release May 3, 2012.