Le Divorce

November 6th, 2003 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Directed By James Ivory

Starring Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts, Stockard Channing, Glenn Close, Stephen Fry, Thierry Lhermitte, Matthew Modine.

Merchant Ivory sounds like an exclusive brand of bone chine toilet seat or bathroom sink, and to the demographic most films are targeted at, most of what they’ve produced has been about as exciting.

But lavish and sprawling period pieces that concentrate on small intricacies of the lives of a select group of characters have never been the stuff of blockbusters, so it might look just your cup of tea.

You might have read that Le Divorce is different from the MI staple because it’s set in the modern era. However, director Ivory has himself said it’s really no different, as the essential themes he and partner Ismail Merchant have always aimed for are still there despite the 21st century social mores depicted in the film.

Let that be all the warning you need. In Le Divorce, the Merchant Ivory team have outdone themselves to produce the most nauseatingly boring, anticlimactic, pointless movie in a very long time.

It deals with a young American woman (Hudson) who travels to Paris to visit her sister (Watts), heavily pregnant and with her cad husband having just walked out on her.

From the word go, the straight road of a fairly simple narrative splits into a dozen narrow passageway subplots, none of them apparently the meat of the story, all of them as agonisingly dull as each other. At the end of every scene, you’ll plead for something to happen but will be let down at every turn.

The arriving sister starts an affair with a philanderer old enough to be her father. Then it turns out the family has a painting worth millions. There’s a stalker, loosely connected with the story. And just when you’re really dozing off, there’s an attempted suicide and a murder — in the middle of what you thought was a romantic comedy (even though it’s not the least bit funny either).

It’s a parable for the whole movie. You’re never sure (and neither, it seems, are the writer or director) if it’s a drama or a comedy; it has neither enough tension nor laughs to be either.

And when it’s all over and you stand up to the sound of your fused bones creaking, you’ll be amazed to discover there’s only been two hours of it; when the credits flash up on the screen with no warning whatsoever, you’ll feel sure it’s taken all night to get over with.

There aren’t only just too many subplots, there’s too many ideas. Besides not knowing whether it’s a comedy or drama, it seems to be trying to sum up the cultural quirks of the French to western audiences (using outdated and irrelevant stereotypes most French people would find comic, if not insulting).

Or maybe it’s just telling the story of a few uninteresting months in the life of two families, with a cultural clash as the backdrop? If you’re still thinking about it two minutes after you leave the cinema (other than to lament those hours you’ll never get back again), the answer might just come to you.

Upsides? Sure — watch it for Naomi Watts’ faultless performance. Even though her constant seriousness is part of the reason you’re never sure of the comic intentions, she’s an actor of astounding talent. Some directorial and scripting embellishments give Kate Hudson a little elbow room, but it really feels like she’s destined to never quite rise above the rank of Hollywood system rom-com princess.

Strong support by the dependably good Stockard Channing and Glenn Close and a cast of very good native French performers show promise, but the story is an endless procession of pretension where you’ll struggle to dredge up an ounce of empathy for anyone in it.

It does manage to capture a bit of the flavour of France better than any American film could — but that’s where Merchant Ivory’s talents lie. However, just like Hollywood’s continually reminding us great CGI doesn’t make a movie on its own, neither does the ability to paint a great background canvas with nothing in the foreground.

So boring it’s offensive. Come back How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, all is forgiven!

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