Directed by David Foenkinos, Stéphane Foenkinos. Starring Audrey Tautou, François Damiens, Bruno Todeschini, Pio Marmaï, Joséphine de Meaux. (2011, PG-13, 108 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., April 27, 2012
Delicacy, a French-language dramedy, opens and closes with men speculating about the inner life of Nathalie (Amélie's Tautou). One man – who we come to understand is François (Marmaï), Nathalie's boyfriend and, later, husband – wonders what type of drink she'll order at a cafe and what that drink reveals about the gorgeous if subdued young woman he's eying from afar. The other man, a co-worker named Markus (Damiens), visits Nathalie's childhood garden with her and imagines young Nathalie's evolution from schoolgirl to skittish twentysomething to the haunted widow he now knows. The scenes are, in turn, amusing and touching, but they highlight the fundamental flaw of Delicacy: It keeps its own heroine at a remove and treats her thoughts as the provenance of others.
Novelist David Foenkinos adapted his own book, La Délicatesse, for the film, which he co-directed with his brother Stéphane. They like to trail the camera directly behind Nathalie, which allows us to see the world as it appears to her – the cobbled streets of Paris where she lives, the graveside mourners who queue to hug her when François dies in an accident – but between seeing and understanding is a world of nuance that Delicacy can't quite conjure, even with Tautou's near-black orbs telegraphing her stricken state.
As the story of a woman wading through unimaginable grief, Delicacy is too slight – and, yes, too delicate – but when it shifts to explore Nathalie's foundling steps toward a romance with Markus, the film opens up. Markus is a Swedish expat – lumbering and nervous and going bald – and he shares his colleagues' astonishment that Nathalie, his boss, would give him the time of day. (The disconnect doesn't entirely translate in America, with our long tradition of funny men landing lovely women.) Comedic actor François Damiens mines but never mocks Markus' awkwardness, thereby creating a winning portrait in decency. His tracing, with the ever-luminous Tautou, of the slow bloom of new love is a thing of understated beauty.