By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on March 24, 2012)
“I could go on holiday in your hair,” moons a love struck Swede named Markus (Francois Damiens) to his co-worker, a beautiful French widow named Nathalie. If that sounds like an inappropriate comment to make at the office (to your boss, no less), you’re right. Then again, it’s not every day that your boss (bearing a remarkable likeness to Audrey Tautou) calls you into her office, springs from her chair without warning, plants a lingering, passionate smooch, then goes back to her desk as if nothing just happened. It’s an anomaly that a slovenly nebbish like Markus is going to require a few days to process.
Whether or not you believe that a beautiful young widow who bears a remarkable likeness to Audrey Tautou would even consider throwing herself at a slovenly nebbish who bears a remarkable likeness to a French Chris Elliot is probably a good litmus test for whether or not you will be willing to sit through a romantic dramedy called Delicacy, directed by siblings David and Stephane Foenkinos (adapted from David’s novel).
In an opening montage that vibes the films of Eric Rohmer, we get a recap of Nathalie’s relationship with her late husband, the suavely continental Francois (Pio Marmai), from their initial Meet Cute at a quaint café, to his untimely demise while out for a jog one fateful morning. The heartbroken Nathalie deals with her pain by becoming a workaholic.
For three years, Nathalie focuses on her career at a Paris-based Swedish firm (it’s never made quite clear what the company “does”, but a lot of paper gets pushed around). Despite frequent urging by friends and co-workers, she refuses to jump back into the dating game, pretty much keeping herself to herself while maintaining her inscrutable countenance. She also has to keep one wary eye on her married boss (Bruno Todeshini), who has been creepily flirting with her since her husband’s death (“It’s terrible, but tragedy makes her even more beautiful,” we “hear” him musing to himself).
And so it is that Nathalie registers just as much shock at her impulsive amorous advance on her own underling, as does Markus himself (who leaves her office dazed and confused). When he later screws up the courage to ask her if she truly wants to go down this road, Nathalie tries to backpedal. She doesn’t know what possessed her. Her mind was elsewhere, etc. etc. “You sound like an American. That’s a bad sign,” Markus deadpans, in the film’s funniest line. This gets a chuckle out of Nathalie, breaking the ice.
Will this odd couple find true love? You’ll have to watch. You will also have to be willing to suspend your disbelief. Your willingness to go along with this fluffy but diverting affair also hinges on which camp you happen to be in regarding Ms. Tautou’s pixie-like, saucer-eyed allure (I’m a fan, but apparently some are completely immune to it).
There is some unevenness in tone, particularly stemming from an over-reliance on the gimmick of “listening in” to each character’s Deep Thoughts (which aim for poetic heights but tend to crash-land just this side of a Hallmark greeting card), but it’s not enough to sink the proceedings. The film is saved by Tautou and Damiens’ onscreen chemistry; they both bring an endearing charm to their roles.
Damiens imbues his shambling ugly duckling with a gentle humanity that helps us grok what Nathalie finds so appealing. Think of this film as a soufflé, which, depending on what you bring to the table, can be either an entree…or a dessert. If you’re the type of person who could bypass the entree and go straight to dessert, I think you will enjoy. Those without a sweet tooth will probably want to skip it.