“Delicacy” is David Foenkinos’ adaptation of his award-winning novel “La Délicatesse,” which he co-directs with his brother, Stephane. It begins as a story of loss and grief, but soon becomes a story about a kiss—a crazy first kiss—and how two people go about unraveling the significance of such a kiss in the face of prejudice.
Nathalie, played by Audrey Tautou (Amelie, Coco Before Chanel) is a happy young Parisian who is devastated by the tragic loss of her husband, Francois (Pio Marmaï). In response, she throws herself into her work, remaining emotionally cut-off, until one day she openly kisses her co-worker, Markus (Francois Damiens). Markus is nothing like the charming, attractive man Francois was. He is gangly and socially awkward—not what one expects for the lovely Nathalie—and their peers can’t hide their disapproval. The tension of social discord is only magnified by Nathalie’s fickle attitude regarding Markus, who is simply crazy about her. And so their relationship teeters, developing in fits and starts throughout their protracted courtship.
French musician and singer Emilie Simon, who composed the soundtrack at the request of the Foenkinos brothers, describes her work as “life meets art”—a good way to describe the film as a whole. It is a fairytale type of narrative populated by plausible characters. It is crafted in such a way that each element—music, cinematography, interiors, wardrobe—is saying something about the characters and their internal state. For the most part, this is all done with subtlety and finesse, without pandering or sensationalism. But some may feel the film is too subdued, with its cool cinematographic hues and melancholic rhythms. The strengths of the film would be more forceful if the Foenkinos brothers cranked things up a notch to bring in more energy and warmth.
What “Delicacy” lacks in drive it makes up for in playfulness and humor. It is damn funny. For much of the film we follow Markus, who sees the world in a child-like way. His bold courtship of Nathalie is aching and hilarious. That isn’t to say that Markus is a typical incarnation of the “lovable buffoon” stock. He is simply and openly vulnerable—as gun-shy as the bereaved Nathalie.
The unusual chemistry that develops between the two seems as if it will never resolve itself; and the tenuous connection they have is further threatened by Nathalie’s boss, Charles (Bruno Todeschini), who is infatuated with her. Unlike Markus, Charles is insensitive and aggressive enough to be counted a winner. It’s this tension between the well-worn path of dominant culture and the possibility of an uncertain—perhaps naive—romance that gives “Delicacy” some poignancy.
A happy ending seems to be in order, but given the odd nature of the relationship, it’s hard to know what that might look like, until the Foenkinos brothers wrap things up their own way. The film itself is off the beaten path, and may not be for everyone. But for those who are exhausted, or simply bored by the overgrown seriousness of modern life, and just want to see the world through a child’s eyes again, “Delicacy” may be a refreshing escape.
“Delicacy” opens March 16 in New York and then in April in Los Angeles.
David and Stephane Foenkinos (W, D)
2012, 108 minutes