The exalter of excess who brought the world the sight of Catherine Deneuve and Fanny Ardant locking lips in 8 Women now attempts a stylistically restrained, Bergmanesque domestic drama. Francois Ozon’s autopsy of the marriage between Marion (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) and Gilles (Stephane Friess) focuses on the nuances of five scenes, reversing chronology for maximum heartburn.
Ozon begins with the finalization of their divorce, and an ill-advised attempt at catharsis in a hotel bed. Gilles, bearded and hollow-eyed, has the look of a man who’s retreated into himself and found the accommodations lacking; Marion undresses in the bathroom and walks to bed with a towel wrapped tightly around her.
From their disastrous sexual encounter, 5x2 retraces the frayed nerves of a family dinner, the traumatic birth of their only child, their wedding night, and initial coupling at a Mediterranean resort (at the expense of Gilles’s girlfriend of four years). Even as they grow younger, Freiss’ face warming and Bruni-Tedeschi’s limbs loosening, Ozon’s attentive camera probes the roots of their bitterness; he’s so attuned to his actors that the litany of cruelties they inflict upon each other is rendered understandable, if not sympathetic.
Ozon is so sensitive to their misery that one wonders whether they were ever happy. (Thankfully, he retains his fondness for choreography; it’s on the dance floor at their wedding reception that they seem closest.) 5x2’s final shot, of the newly-joined couple swimming off into a blazing sunset and predetermined future, is ironic in a way that that other backwards-tracking romantic tragedy, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, never was. Both films end by asking: knowing the pain in store, would you still go through with this? 5x2 makes it too easy to say “No.”
Opens June 10