Rated R, 90 min. Directed by François Ozon. Starring Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Stéphane Freiss, Géraldine Pailhas, Françoise Fabian, Michael Lonsdale, Antoine Chappey, Marc Ruchmann.
Ozon’s languorous, bittersweet take on Bergman’s Scenes From a Marriage wanders far afield from his most recent film, 2003’s Hichcockian homage Swimming Pool, and while there’s no Ludivine Sagnier – or Charlotte Rampling for that matter – to draw the eye or quicken the pulse, 5x2 has its own nuanced and bitter charms. Ever the romantic fatalist, Ozon divides this tale of husband and wife Gilles (Freiss) and Marion (Bruni-Tedeschi) into five distinct movements, each pregnant with its own lyrical sense of impending marital disquiet and the occasional calm. Ozon’s conceit here is to begin at the end, with the couple’s no-nonsense divorce proceedings. American viewers weaned on a steady diet of televised custody battles and vitriolic alimony scufflings may find the stoic, emotionally sterile proceedings something of a letdown – aren’t the French supposed to be the passionate ones? – but a post-attorney visit to an equally clinical hotel room provides a seamy jolt of realism as Gilles’ attempts at a final bout of coitus morphs midway through into a grueling act of consensual rape. This desperate, pathetic, but comprehensible act of l’amour fou leads backward to four previous episodes in the moribund life and slow death of their marital bliss, including a prickly dinner during which Gilles confesses to a visiting gay couple that he and his wife once engaged in some orgiastic shenanigans and more. Bruni-Tedeschi’s face is a harrowing sight to behold as she listens to her alcohol-loosened husband disclose choice private moments to what appears to be a pair of veritable strangers. (It’s later revealed that one of the men is Gilles’ brother.) Ozon moves from here back to the birth of the couple’s son, during which the emotionally overwhelmed and overwhelming Gilles vanishes from the delivery room in favor of sitting in his car, cell phone to his ear. 5x2 ends as you might imagine, with Gilles and Marion locking gazes from across an Italian resort, their bleak mutual future not yet a glimmer past lust; even then, Gilles is with someone else, his longtime girlfriend, who, as it turns out, he leaves for Marion. Infidels in the house of love, these two seem, in retrospect, doomed from the get-go, a bracing bit of existential wonkiness that pervades the whole of the film (minus the wedding scene, which, true to form, involves some consumatorial hanky-panky of its own). Ozon’s take on this marriage in particular is notable – apart from Freiss and Bruni-Tedeschi’s bracing performances – for his unwillingness to let things spiral out of complete control. Even while we’re flipping through the snapshots of two people’s ultimate disenchantment with each other, it never feels tawdry or excessive or, for that matter, very interesting. Instead, Ozon seems to be saying, this is how it ends everywhere, all the time, even in the City of Lights: with a beginning.
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