'Divorce a la Francaise' ('L'ex de ma vie): Film Review

Arnaud Borrel/Les Films du 24
"Divorce, a la Francaise"
A morose divorce comedy, Franco-Italian style.

Geraldine Nakache ("All that Glitters") and Kim Rossi Stuart ("Romanzo Criminale") star in this Franco-Italian comedy about a divorcing couple reuniting in Paris.

Love works in mysterious ways in Divorce a la Francaise (L’ex de ma vie), a Franco-Italian rom-com about an estranged couple whose relationship is rebooted over an extended Paris holiday. But the real mystery in this middling, frankly embarrassing comedy is why a pair of talented actors — and directors in their own right — like Geraldine Nakache (All That Glitters) and Kim Rossi Stuart (Romanzo Criminale, Libero) thought this would be the right commercial venture for them. To say that filmmaker Dorothee Sebbagh doesn’t have a knack for humor is an understatement: Her movie is about as funny as colon cancer, and it’s only partially salvaged by lots of eye-grabbing locations and a merciful 80-minute running time.

At least on paper, the script (by Sebbagh and Fanny Chesnel, Bright Days Ahead) offers a decent pitch, mixing your classic “remarriage comedy” with a tale of cross-cultural miscommunication. One can easily see this setup working with a more skilled director, and if Divorce travels anywhere abroad, it may be in the form of a remake. Otherwise, the minor star power of the two leads should attract some attention in their respective co-producing countries, but that’s where the nuptials will end.

Accomplished French violinist, Ariane (Nakache), has fallen head over heels for a superstar conductor (Pascal Demolon), who proposes to her after a night of partying in Rome. The only catch is that Ariane is still married to Nino (Rossi Stuart), a neurotic Italian who clearly hasn’t recovered from their separation. With no choice to but to submit to Nino’s whims, Ariane accepts to accompany him to Paris, where he’ll agree to sign the divorce papers if she agrees to embark on a long-promised honeymoon.

If the premise is somewhat of a stretch, it’s easy enough to accept. What’s harder to swallow is the mess that Sebbagh makes of it, unable to land a single solid joke from start to finish. From the wacky road trip where the couple rides in a Driver’s Ed car, to the sequence where Ariane runs through the streets in her wedding dress, to the one where the two duel it out on a rooftop with a bow and a sword, Divorce features some of the lamest Paris-set gags in recent memory. All that’s missing is someone choking on a croissant — though it’s possible that scene hit the cutting room floor, along with many others in a film that feels extremely truncated (though that's actually a plus).

Not that one expects miracles from such a familiar comic recipe, but it’s like Sebbagh was given all the ingredients to cook up a tasty bi-national entree, only to serve the audience a frozen pizza topped with snails and spoiled creme fraiche. This is especially frustrating with regards to the two leads, both of who have showcased their talents before, but have little actual chemistry together on screen. Rossi Stuart tries to play Nino as a Woody Allen-ish Roman, but his shrieking French is less charming than grating, as if he’d been dubbed by an actor who just swallowed a bag of coke and a balloon full of helium. Nakache manages to tone it down some, but to the point where she often looks like she’d rather be in another movie.

Tech credits are mediocre, with flat lensing never quite taking advantage of the postcard-ready scenery, including the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre and the requisite bateau-mouche ride on the Seine. All of these are featured in a subplot involving a tacky tour group we’re supposed to be laughing at. But at least they seem to be having fun, instead of being stuck like us in this woeful and charmless charade.

Opens: Wednesday, June 25 (in France)
Production companies: Les Films du 24, TF1 Droits Audiovisuals, Cattleya, VIP Cinema
Cast: Geraldine Nakache, Kim Rossi Stuart, Pascal Demolon, Sophie Cattani
Director: Dorothee Sebbagh
Screenwriters: Fanny Chesnel, Dorothee Sebbagh
Producer: Christine Rouxel
Directors of photography: Gilles Porte, Lubomir Bakchev
Production designer: Marie-Helene Sulmoni
Costume designer: Eve-Marie Arnault
Editor: Laurent Rouaun
Composer: Lily Wood and the Prick
Sales agent: TF1 International

No rating, 79 minutes