Saturday, March 19, 2005

Review - 5x2

When Gaspar Noe unleashed his devastating Irreversible on an unsuspecting public, one of the key ideas driving the film was the notion that “Time destroys all things”. Another of French cinema’s brightest young talents, Francois Ozon, has now come up with his own take on the same theme. 5x2 comprises of five scenes in the life of a crumbling marriage, starting with the signing of the divorce papers and then taking us back in time to witness an uncomfortable dinner party, the birth of the couple’s child, their wedding and finally ending on their first meeting. Ozon presents these snapshots and lets us figure out how the loving, hopeful couple we see at the end of the film became the resentful and loveless pair we met at the start.
Once labelled the Enfant Terrible of French cinema, Francois Ozon has been making great strides with every feature since his breakthrough hit Sitcom. While films such as Under the Sand and Swimming Pool have displayed an increasing maturity and thoughtfulness in his work, the excesses of his early films never seemed too far from the surface (as proven by his camp extravaganza 8 Women), and that’s precisely why 5x2 is such a revelation. Here, Ozon has delivered an intelligent, serious and adult study of a relationship which stands as one of the finest films of the year.

The central couple are Marion (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) and Gilles (Stephane Freiss), and the film revolves around the first-rate performances of these actors, especially the remarkable Tedeschi whose performance here is truly stunning. As Marion, she gives an incredibly subtle and complex display and she really does seem to ‘de-age’ as the film travels back in time. Compared to the carefree character in the final scene, she seems beaten and emotionally hollow by the time her marriage has turned sour. The light has gone from her eyes, it’s a magnificent piece of screen acting.

Ozon may well be the best director of women since Cukor, and it’s inevitable that co-star Freiss suffers a little in comparison. It’s not his fault, he gives a strong and believable performance, it’s just that we never get inside his head, and Gilles doesn’t develop as fully as Marion. Or perhaps that’s the point? Is Gilles' inability to change one of the reasons behind the failure of the marriage?

Because that’s exactly the sort of question Ozon invites us to ask with 5x2. Wisely, he never makes the cause of the breakup explicit, preferring to drop little clues here and there, evidence the viewer can then piece together. We re-evaluate what we’ve seen as the couple’s previous experiences are revealed to us. Why did Marion agree to the post-divorce sex session which opens the film? Is the orgy story, which Gilles tells at a tense dinner party, true or just a cruel attack on Marion? Why did Gilles avoid the birth of the couple’s child and what did happen on their wedding night? By the time the credits roll, we know the answer to some of these questions while others remain shrouded in mystery.

The film’s deceptively simple structure disguises the complex emotional and intellectual content. Ozon handles the backwards narrative with effortless skill, short blackouts mark the passing of time and some well-chosen pieces of Italian music provide touching interludes. This is the most satisfying film Ozon has made yet, intelligent, tough and true. Far from being an Enfant Terrible, he can now stand proudly among the first rank of contemporary filmmakers.