La Delicatesse: Film Review

Sparks do not fly in this muted French romance.

Audrey Tautou aims for "Amelie" magic with her latest French dramedy.

PARIS - A grieving young widow and her milquetoast colleague wind up forming an unlikely couple in La Delicatesse, a flat-footed and seriously unsexy romantic dramedy from debuting French filmmakers David and Stephane Foenkinos. Based on the former’s bestselling novel, this all-too timid affair features decent turns from stars Audrey Tautou and Francois Damiens, who do what they can with a threadbare plot and by-the-book direction. Released by StudioCanal in time for Christmas, the film should see reasonable holiday returns from Tautou lovers, followed by overseas stints in Francophonia and select art houses.

When the hunky Francois (Pio Marmai) picks up the sprightly Nathalie (Tautou) in a café, they zip into a Cinderella-like love story which culminates in a quick marriage (complete with CG snowfall), followed by Francois’ untimely death during a routine jogging accident. Cut to three years later: Nathalie has now morphed into a stern career woman with little room in her life for another romance, especially one with her sleazy, sexually harassing boss, Charles (Bruno Todeschini).

But, as the film’s overtly whimsical tone (complete with a few Amelie-like voiceovers) seems to imply, life is just full of surprises, and so when Nathalie suddenly decides to kiss her sweet, shy, Swedish-born colleague, Markus (Damiens), it throws both of their emotional worlds into disarray. For Nathalie, this means getting over the loss of Francois and possibly falling in love again; for the awkward and not exactly handsome Markus, it means accepting the idea of falling in love at all.

Although the talented Tautou (Coco Before Chanel) and Damiens (The Wolberg Family) provide some reasonable on-screen chemistry – especially during a few welcome moments of minimalist comedy – their characters remain altogether impassive, hinting at deeper feelings but never revealing themselves in an intriguing or appealing way. This is partially due to the lack of real conflict in the script (and likely, the novel), which offers up basically one drawn out plot point with hardly any twists and turns; and partially due to the Foenkinos Bros. failure to bring things to life with their heavily lit, TV-style directing.

For a story about two 30-somethings who fall into an improbable and ultimately deep-seated romance, La Delicatesse (which translates to “delicacy” or “sensitivity”) also seems to take its title way too literally. Nathalie and Francois reveal only a hint of real physical attraction after their initial office smooch, and both of them seem hell-bent on maintaining a platonic relationship. This is perhaps the first French film in history where a date replete with good food, wine and a bit of heroism ends with both characters deciding, quite willingly, not to sleep together. Call it real love, or true fantasy.

Production companies: 2.4.7. Films, StudioCanal, France 2 Cinema

Cast: Audrey Tautou, Francois Damiens, Bruno Todescini, Melanie Bernier, Josephine de Meaux, Pio Marmai

Directors: David Foenkinos, Stephane Foenkinos
Screenwriter: David Foenkinos, based on his novel “La Delicatesse”
Producers: Xavier Rigault, Marc-Antoine Robert
Director of photography: Remy Chevrin
Production designer: Maamar Ech-Cheikh
Music: Emilie Simon
Costume designer: Emmanuelle Youchnovski
Sales Agent: StudioCanal
No rating, 109 minutes