My march through French film, abetted by Netflix, took me this weekend to Nathalie, a 2003 film directed by Anne Fontaine. Hmm, I thought, French woman director, could be interesting. Not exactly, or rather, although I watched Nathalie with interest, the film wasn't all that compelling.
To explain: Fanny Ardant plays Catherine, the longtime wife of Bernard, played by (yes!!!) Gerard Depardieu, whom she suspects of cheating on her. Catherine hires a young prostitute from a high-end private club to seduce her husband; she then meets with the young woman, whom she calls Nathalie, to listen in detail to what Nathalie has done with Bernard, where and when. Kind of like Scheherazade, but not.
Nathalie is played by the luscious Emanuelle Beart, here in full slut makeup: red red lips and kohl-rimmed eyes. She's just one or two steps away from resembling a raccoon. Fanny Ardant looks long-suffering -- valiant, brave, crestfallen-- but there's no range of emotion in her acting or the character she's portraying. Why is Catherine setting Bernard up? I came up with several hypotheses (titillation and/or revenge being the primary ones) but it became clear that neither applied, or if they did it was all highly conceptual and above ma tete.
Fanny Ardant has little to do. She's so damn respectable--her character is a gynecologist, which might have offered opportunities for metaphor, non?--that she began to annoy me. Poor Depardieu is the suspected adulterer and has even less fire in his eyes than does Ardant. Beart is slinkily enthusiastic in her role, but her character is the only one who's having a good time--at whose expense, we eventually discover. There's a red theme going on: the club where Nathalie works is all red upholstery and walls, her lipstick is red, and from time to time Catherine wears a red sweater (her clothes are understated but lovely). One might suspect that all this red is leading somewhere (hidden desires? ladyparts?) but it doesn't.
Also, Catherine/Fanny makes so much of her suspicions that Bernard/Gerard is cheating that I was thrown off. I thought the French were cool about adultery, especially since Bernard tells Catherine that he doesn't intend to leave her and he loves her. So what gives? I wanted to interrupt and ask. Before I wrote this post, I checked some of the French reviews of Nathalie, since I figured that maybe something was lost in translation, but their response was pretty much the same: Quoi?
Demicelebrity note: Catherine picks up a cater waiter at a reception and spends the night at his place; the waiter, listed in the credits so gracefully as "l'homme d'un soir" is played by Ari Paffgen, Nico's son with Alain Delon (and not acknowledged as such by Delon). See the documentary Nico Icon for more about Ari's difficult, to say the least, upbringing.
True confessions: Part of what attracted me to the film was the cover photo of Beart clinging to a pole; the copy calls her a stripper. Wow, I thought, French pole tricks. Foreign exchange! Such is not the case. Beart drapes herself around a pole at one point, but her tricks are the other kind (no, not the Silly Rabbit, either). Unless in France all strippers work as prostitutes, she isn't a stripper. I'll just have to keep getting my exotic ideas from the films of Pedro Almodovar.