3 stars (out of four)
Francois Ozon's "5X2," like Harold Pinter's play "Betrayal," is a tale of blighted love told backward. But though both Pinter's and Ozon's stories begin at the end and proceed to the beginningand though both show a couple whose passion falls apartOzon's seems more superficial.
Perhaps that's inevitable. Pinter is the better writer and "Betrayal" is a great play, though it made a mediocre movie (in David Jones' 1983 version). There, the gimmick seemed ingenious. Here, Ozon simply makes it work well enough. Like Pinter, he wants to show an irrevocable parting at the end, and at the beginning, a moment of incandescent passion utterly defused by our knowledge of where it leads. But where Pinter deals with an adulterous affair, Ozon portrays a marriagebetween Marion (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) and Gilles (Stephane Freiss)and shows it as if it were as messy and guilt-ridden as many infidelities.
The title refers to five sequences involving those two people. Ozon shows them (1) divorcing in court and then failing one last rapprochement in bed. Then we see (2) a painful, confessional evening with the couple and Gilles' gay brother Christophe (Antoine Chappey), followed by (3) the disastrous day of their son's birth, which the emotionally cowardly Gilles fails to attend. A surprising erotic encounter (4) on their wedding night is finally followed by (5) the moment they fell in love, on Ozon's favorite location, a beach.
When you piece it all together, it becomes mildly fascinatingthough not as much as either "Betrayal," Gaspar Noe's obnoxious but riveting "Irreversible" or Chris Nolan's backwards noir "Memento." One watches "5X2" amused, interested and fairly absorbed, but not very emotionally engagedexcept perhaps for that brutal last encounter in the film's first (though chronologically last) scene, the movie's most unexpected sequence and probably its most powerful.
After a while you get the sneaking suspicion Ozon isn't very engaged either, that he doesn't care much about Marion and Gilles and what happens, or happened, to them. So we watch with a sort of tense detachment as we head away from the first, fearsome climax toward the paradoxically lyrical start of the relationship.
Still, there's no denying "5X2" is expertly made, marked by the easy professionalism and non-mainstream slant we expect of the prolific Ozon ("Swimming Pool," "Under the Sand"). "5X2" unwinds with absolute clarity and sure style, and Freiss and Bruni-Tedeschi make an interesting couple, if not a truly memorable one. The film is effectively stolen by the two veteran actors playing Marion's parents, Monique and Bernard: Francoise Fabian, the wordy seductress of Eric Rohmer's "Ma Nuit Chez Maud," and Michael Lonsdale, whom you may remember from several Truffaut films or from Fred Zinnemann's "Day of the Jackal," where he played the smart but dowdy-looking French cop chasing the remorseless assassin. With their buoyancy and sass, they inject the life much of the rest of the film lacks.
Ozon has had the clever idea of using corny Italian pop love ballads (like Luigi Tenco's "Mi Sono Inamaroto Di Te") as the ironically sentimental bridges between the five parts of this unusually unsentimental romanceand that may especially please those who share his alienated view of bourgeois amours. But when he wants to turn on the heat and tears, he chooses an old reliable: the same shattering "Platters" rendition of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" that helped build the emotional high point of George Lucas' "American Graffiti." It works again here, and, though "5X2" is a good film, it could use more of that heat.
Directed by Francois Ozon; written by Ozon, Emmanuele Bernheim; photographed by Yorick Le Saux; edited by Monica Coleman; production designed by Katia Wyszkop; music by Philippe Rombi; produced by Fidelite, Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonier. A THINKFilm release; opens Friday at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema. Running time: 1:30. MPAA rating: R (for strong graphic sexuality, language and some drug content).
Marion - Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi
Gilles - Stephane Freiss
Monique - Francoise Fabian
Bernard - Michael Lonsdale
Christophe - Antoine Chappey
Judge - Jean-Pol BrissartCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times