Looking for Hortense (Cherchez Hortense): Venice Review

Light-weight French comedy drives down the middle of the road without energy and invention

Kristen Scott Thomas and Jean-Pierre Bacri whip through light French comedy for writer-director Pascal Bonitzer.

This politely educated French comedy about a professional couple who splits up is a middle-of-the-road affair, more interesting for its polished script by noted screenwriter and director Pascal Bonitzer than for its uncompelling subject. The natural target of Looking for Hortense will be French uptown movie-goers, though their ranks may be expanded a bit to include festival patrons after its bow at Venice, where it screened out of competition to general indifference.

International audiences will be cheered to see Kristin Scott Thomas in top form and acting impeccably in French in the opening scenes.  At first the film seems to have a bigger role in store for her as Iva, an off-the-boulevard theater director tempted into an affair with her good-looking leading man. Unfortunately, this little peccadillo taken as a sign of her utter superficiality, and not much is heard from her after that.

The focus switches to Iva’s live-in companion Damien (Jean-Pierre Bacri), a down-at-heel teacher specialized in explaining the enigma of Chinese business practice to French entrepreneurs.  He seems more chagrined than hurt by her betrayal, especially when he recalls how he nobly ignored the advances of Aurore, a young Serbian waittress (Isabelle Carrè) who comes on to him on the street. So he puts his foot down and throws Iva out of the apartment they share with their over-bearing teenage son Noe (the owlishly funny Marin Orcand Tourres.) It takes quite a lot of screen time to reach this modest point.

Sporting a glum look and a permanent day-old growth of beard which is far from attractive, Bacri discreetly starts chasing the disarmingly innocent Aurore. His real problem, however, is getting up the courage to approach his father (Claude Rich), a high-ranking state judge, for a favor regarding an illegal immigrant named Zorica, a person he doesn’t even know.

Bonitzer and co-writer Agnes De Sacy are consummate pros, but here the plot lacks pep and direction. Often it seems to move forward more on the energy of Alexei Aigui’s rippling piano score than under its own steam. The few rousing scenes that offer the audience some happy pay-back are the confrontations between Damien and his father, the great Claude Rich, particularly in a Japanese restaurant where the august judge flirts with a sexy waiter (Masahiro Kashiwagi) while Damien looks on in shock.  


Venue: Venice Film Festival (out of competition), Aug. 31, 2012.
Production companies: SBS Productions in association with Cinemage 6, Soficinema 8

Cast: Jean-Pierre Bacri, Isabelle Carré, Kristin Scott Thomas, Claude Rich,Marin Orcand Tourres
Director: Pascal Bonitzer
Screenwriters: Agnes De Sacy, Pascal Bonitzer
Producer: Said Ben Said
Director of photography: Romain Winding
Production designer: Manu de Chauvigny
Costumes: Marielle Robaut
Editor: Elise Fievet
Music: Alexei Aigui
Sales Agent: SBS Productions
No rating, 100 minutes.