5x2 Movie Review

François Ozon (Under the Sand, Swimming Pool) channels Ingmar Bergman rather than regular muses Alfred Hitchcock and Claude Chabrol for 5x2, the portrait of a disintegrating marriage that focuses on five key instances in the troubled couple's history. Ozon's tale is told in reverse chronologically, beginning with divorce proceedings and ending with a romantic first meeting, though unlike Gaspar Noé's similarly flip-flopped Irreversible, Ozon's narrative structure isn't simply a gimmick designed to gussy up otherwise straightforward material; rather, the upside-down construction strives to upend viewers' commonly held perceptions about the reasons why once-amorous relationships end in heartbreak. Assembled with more than a hint of repetition and, as a result, a frustrating lack of unexpected revelations, Ozon's latest peters out before its anticlimactic conclusion. Yet thanks to his sterling stars and a directorial attentiveness, the filmmaker crafts a mature portrait of a relationship's thorny complexity while coloring his domestic drama with an undercurrent of looming menace and bittersweet inevitability.

Ozon's story recounts the ill-fated union of Marion (Valerie Bruni Tedeschi) and Gilles (Stéphane Freiss), a wife and husband who, at film's start, are shown quietly finalizing their divorce in a drab office, their faces pained but stoic reflections of their relief, misery and nervousness over the end of their matrimony. Clearly indebted - in spirit if not in specifics - to Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage (including Gilles' beard, a nod to Erland Josephson's), 5x2 (before heading back in time) subsequently moves from this depressing administrative locale to a furtive, desperate motel reunion between the newly single Marion and Gilles where attempts to rekindle the sexual fire ends in physical and emotional abuse. This powerhouse confrontation finds Bruni Tedeschi and Freiss, their forlorn eyes captured in close-up, expressing without words the callous selfishness, lack of communication, and physical and emotional detachment that doomed their relationship. And the scene ignites the film with a promise of eye-opening bombshells to come about the couple's dissolution via the ensuing backwards procession through a dinner party with Gilles' brother and his lover, Gilles' injurious cowardice during the birth of his son, their drunken wedding night, and their first encounter on a tropical beach.

That such promise is only partially fulfilled is no fault of the magnificent Freiss and Bruni Tedeschi, the latter of whom (who looks like a cross between Monica Vitti and Virginia Madsen) delivers a virtuoso turn as the smoldering, wounded, and finally fed-up Marion. The duo's multi-layered performances and contentious, yin-yang chemistry are the film's strongest suit, with both stars - through stolen glances and casual, fleeting touches - adeptly creating a shared character history that fills in the gaps between the screenplay's five distinct chapters. With the exception of a slightly laughable wedding scene encounter between Marion and a hunky, husky-voiced American on the edge of a cheesy moonlit pond, Yorick Le Saux's understated cinematography produces an eavesdropping effect that complements the leads' naturalism. And Ozon elegantly amplifies his protagonists' up-and-down rapport by means of each sequence's opening shots, which introduce the couple either facing or walking towards the audience (an indication of their emotional openness), or with their backs to the camera (a sign of their remoteness).

Such delicacy is occasionally offset by the director's heavy-handed use of Philippe Rombi's score and his plot's momentum-sapping composition - by the midpoint, we've seen enough bad behavior to fully comprehend why Marion and Gilles can't make their marriage work. Still, Ozon and Emmanuèle Bernheim's astute writing is dappled with a wry, pitiful irony, as seen in the similarities between the "articles" read at wedding and divorce ceremonies and the adulterous shenanigans perpetrated by both Gilles and Marion. Though it imparts nothing particularly new about male-female relations, their script nonetheless has a keen eye for small, nuanced flourishes, such as when Gilles, in a bit of passive-aggressive quarrel-baiting, tells Marion, "Rinse the dishes before you put them in the dishwasher." As 5x2 perceptively pinpoints, the seeds of amorous destruction are sown not just in cataclysmic events, but also in the fundamental and unchangeable differences between lovers that are exacerbated by the accumulation of petty, everyday disputes.

5x2xSPF 25

Comments

5x2 Rating

" Good "

Rating: R, 2004

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