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Nathalie
cast: Fanny Ardent, Gérard Depardieu, Emmanuelle Béart, Judith Magre, and Vladimir Yordanoff

director: Anne Fontaine

92 minutes (15) 2003
widescreen ratio 16:9
Momentum DVD Region 2 retail
[released 31 January 2005]

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by John Percival
Parisian businesswoman Catherine (Fanny Ardent) is tormented by the possibility that her husband Bernard (Gérard Depardieu) is having an affair. She enlists the help of call girl Marlene (Emmanuelle Béart) and together they create a new persona for Marlene called Nathalie. Nathalie will be the honey trap for Bernard and allow Catherine to discover the truth. As Marlene feeds back intimate details of Nathalie's meetings with Bernard, Catherine finds out more about herself than her husband and, as she loses control over Marlene/Nathalie, a deeper deception takes over.

This French language film paints an interestingly cold picture of the Parisian marriage. An odd landscape punctuated by parties and where husband and wife are distant and affairs are discussed in a very 'matter of fact' manner. For what appears to be a steamy story of sex and infidelity the characters display a remarkable lack of emotion. Depardieu's hard working businessman and supposedly cheating husband appears to be fairly two-dimensional. Plus, in an isolated moment of comedy he is actually referred to as 'good looking'! Fanny Ardent is similarly distant, spending most of the time staring teary eyed either at her crumbling marriage or at finding her 'exciting' relationship with Marlene deteriorating. However that is not to underestimate the journey of her character Catherine who has many issues and new feelings to deal with. She represents the successful older businesswoman but has she failed as a wife and Bernard strays as a consequence? Also, the lengths she will go to, in hiring 'Nathalie' to trap her husband she sets to deceive him in order to uncover his deception. Is she living her life through the younger Nathalie?

Emmanuelle Béart's smart prostitute manipulates the situation to her own benefit and manages to maintain a relationship with Catherine despite describing all the sexually explicit activities she was getting up to with Bernard. However she is just as deceptive as Bernard and Catherine. Director Anne Fontaine takes a different view of Paris as a backdrop, using mainly regular streets instead of the glossy version often used. She does not rely on sex scenes to push the story along, as all of the 'action' is either implied or described. However, a couple of annoying factors involve nearly every character having a lit cigarette jammed in their mouth like a child's dummy and also the permanent use of a bright light just off camera which gives everyone this shiny halo in their eyes. It does not matter where they are, house, car or nightclub there is this irritating reflection in their eyes.

Essentially this is an intelligent story of Catherine's self-discovery, looking at her marriage and husband through new eyes. Her route to this is morally dubious and through this it puts an unflattering light upon the middle class French. But could this have all been avoided if they just went and saw a counsellor?
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