It’s funny the little things you notice when watching “Delicacy,” opening this week at the Laemmle Playhouse in Pasadena. Like the fact that Parisian pixie Audrey Tatou wears the same shoes and often the same outfit in many scenes. But after all, she is an office worker, so it makes sense she hasn’t popped into Chanel for a fresh outfit every day. It’s a reality check that’s been scrubbed over so many times in a glossy well groomed Hollywood format that it’s strangely fixating.
It’s these charming deviations that flavor this French romantic film with an appealing aperitif to an otherwise well worn tale of the beauty and the beast she falls in love with. With her big soulful eyes and quirky girl charm, Tatou (of “Amelie” fame) is always a riveting presence on screen, even when her role seems out of kilter.
In “Delicacy” she plays Nathalie, who at first seems to have a perfectly planned life — a handsome and exciting husband she adores, and a path paved up the corporate ladder at work. Impending doom is bound to be around the corner, and not hard to predict, as her husband runs out the door for a daily jog with a wistful “see you later.” No surprise to the audience when he doesn’t make it back and Nathalie is plunged into grief, burying herself in work to escape.
Three years pass and she is a successful business woman isolating herself from any personal relationships. She swiftly dismisses the advances of her Lothario boss, but then in an odd move (perhaps to prove to herself she is not totally devoid of connection) kisses an unsuspecting co-worker, who leaves her office stunned but also invigorated by the possibility of attaining someone so unattainable.
Markus (played by French comedian Francois Damiens) is paunchy, balding, has bad teeth and wears ill-fitting bad sweaters, and worse still he is Swedish (which seems to make him even more of an outcast in the office). No one would suspect he could possibly melt the heart of this perfectly porcelain ice queen.
But it’s the thoughtful gestures (like presenting her with a gift of a childhood favorite, a Pez candy container) that has Nathalie looking beyond the surface, even when her co-workers and friends are completely aghast and downright rude about their odd-couple attraction. When her best friend assumes her new love must be a tall, handsome, blond Adonis, only to discover that he looks more like a troll, she virtually spits him out of her apartment with the force of her venom.
It does seem incongruous that a match like this is so shunned. (The French only need to look at their political leaders to see that it’s hardly a rarity in real life). Is it because Markus is her subordinate at work? He has no money or power — or is it a sheer distrust of anyone Nordic?
None of this is really explained. But Tatou and Damiens handle their characters with deft charm, and first-time directors David and Stephane Foenkinos give us picture-perfect postcards of Paris (like the Eiffel Tower erupting into a brilliant sparkle of light as Markus and Nathalie meet on a bridge). All that still makes “Delicacy” an enjoyable romantic treat to savor.
KATHERINE TULICH writes about film and pop culture for Marquee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.