The big problem with meeting Mister Right when you’re young is that something is going to happen, it’s going to end, and suddenly you’re left with the whole rest of your life to fill. Stumbling into the unexpected future seems to be the theme of La Délicatesse, but for all its dry sweetness, the movie never quite gels.
Nathalie Kerr (Audrey Tautou) and François (Pio Marmaï) are in love, and it’s perfect. They annually recreate the scene in the coffeeshop where they met. When he proposes, it’s just the most natural thing to happen. They even love each other’s families; she complains, “why couldn’t your father be a racist or something?” It’s straight out of the storybooks.
And then François dies, hit by a car while out running. Nathalie’s mother (Ariane Ascaride) and best friend, Sophie (Joséphine de Meaux), encourage her to try to move on, but they don’t really know how to help. And so Nathalie throws herself into her work with a vengeance.
Three years later, she’s appointed as the head of an autonomous working group within her company that has something to do with Franco-Swedish relations, but it’s not clear exactly what. In any event, her boss (Bruno Todeschini) is still carrying a torch for her, but she’s still not ready to move on from her fidelity to the past, and she’s not attracted to him anyway.
So it’s quite a surprise to everyone involved — including Nathalie herself — when she finds herself drawn to a stocky, ungainly, goofy Swede, Markus Lundl (François Damiens), in her working group. He’s severely balding, not completely kempt, and his style isn’t exactly au courant. His skin isn’t great, but in this it matches his teeth. We get the sense he breathes through his mouth. But he’s kind, he’s polite, and he loves her.
The film is directed by David and Stéphane Foenkinos, from a screenplay David adapted from his own bestselling novel. Whatever his skills as a writer, they seem to falter as an adapter and director. Each piece works, but it’s hard to put together a coherent story from them. Nathalie’s relationship with François is clearly supposed to be important, but she doesn’t seem to think of him very much on a day-to-day basis. Markus’ appearance is supposed to be important as well, but Nathalie never seems to think about it. Her friends’ disapproval should be a factor, but all we see is an initial meeting that doesn’t go on long enough for any of them to exert any influence on Nathalie herself.
It’s no stretch for Tautou to play the slightly odd romantic-comedienne; Damiens is more interesting to watch, with all the grace and glamor of Paul Giamatti, who would clearly play the part in an unlikely American remake. In fact, it’s instructive to stack this film up against Sideways, which also gives hope to unattractive dorks everywhere: if your romantic leads aren’t simply attractive audience-surrogates, they need stronger back-stories, and they need to be situated in a compelling story of their own.
But there is an endearing sweetness to La Délicatesse that can only have come from its source, and a care to its pieces that shows Foenkinos’ intelligence. There may be a great romantic movie in his novel, but it seems he wasn’t the one to make it.
Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.