People often say and do strange, unpredictable things when they're mourning, deliberate or not, where they'll slip out of character with decisions they make and impulses they follow. It's a part of the process, really, where they're rediscovering themselves after losing someone who gave them a secure perspective on their personal identity. Delicacy (La délicatesse), a French dramatic-comedy from David and Stéphane Foenkinos, yearns to combine a lighthearted story of unlikely after-tragedy romance with a somber reflection on the sudden loss of a spouse, about those fickle decisions made that revamp the way life looks and rekindle their desire for something new. Good intentions populate this small, flaky cinematic confection, and a faceted performance from Audrey Tautou almost persuades one to believe in the substance layered within, but too much erratic behavior restrains its sincerity as a considerable portrayal of rebounding.
Adapted from David Foenkinos' best-selling novel, La délicatesse, Tautou plays Nathalie, a young French woman who recently lost the love of her life, the handsome and charmingly boyish Francois, in a tragic accident. Shortly before that, she had taken a stable, intensive desk job to secure their future and, hopefully, start a family; instead, it turns into a vessel for her to pour her post-trauma energy. She slaves away and, in the process, builds this wall around her that won't allow anyone else in, which continues for several years. That is, until the day she makes the flip decision to stand up and haphazardly kiss her Swedish co-worker, Markus (François Damiens), without much in the way of provocation. He's a nice-enough guy, funny and charming in ways, but he's not what some would call traditionally good-looking or appealing, so it becomes a bit of a mystery -- and a conflict among her few friends, family, and co-workers -- when they spark something resembling an affair.
Delicacy greatly benefits from the weighty representation of grief exhibited at the beginning, giving Audrey Tautou a nuanced, mournful persona to exemplify for Nathalie's foundation. Little details in David Foenkinos' story both pluck at the heartstrings and offer an accurate depiction of the small post-trauma events that cut deeper than expected, from deleting a loved one's contact info from a cell-phone to tossing out familiar belongings as a way of catharsis. That entire scene of her in an empty, dark apartment is superb. Tautou harnesses these opportunities to create an ample, lingering emotional scope for the woman, delicately showing what's going on under the surface through her pursed lips, spacious eyes, and steadfast mannerisms. This role ditches most of the capriciousness from her turns in Amelie and Priceless (more like her somberness in A Very Long Engagement), yet there's effortless humanity and charm in her somber presence that makes someone want to comfort her. That's a really interesting thing, considering she pushes away the compassion.
Once Nathalie haphazardly breaks down her own barriers and kisses Markus, Delicacy crumbles with it into a bizarre jumble of mixed signals, fleeting charms, and unconvincing confusions between a reemerging widow and her unlikely choice in a suitor. Peculiar decisions from both make everything seem inapt, too fickle for straight-faced drama and out-of-place even for a comedy: spastically running away at key romantic junctures, erratically flip-flopping between indulging the relationship and not, and learning how to act around their co-workers. Even the initial kiss itself feels ... odd; it's understood that Nathalie's acting on a mindless, strained whim created by the barriers lost through her husband's death, but this scenario that sparks further quirky romantic events and a blossoming life-altering relationship stands on rickety ground. That doesn't stop the unlikely link between Nathalie and Markus having a certain charm, though, where François Damiens gives Markus a goofy smile and unpretentious adoration that convincingly awakens Nathalie's warmth.
Because of the link between that unlikely couple and the deep ache that Audrey Tautou wrestles with inside Nathalie, it appears as if there's something more going on under the surface that'll emerge, especially considering a few artful visual cues, curious dialogue choices, and reactions to Markus. Yet, when this mostly unfunny dram-com reaches its wistful close in a cloudy French countryside, the lengths it undertakes to create a absconded woman regaining her zeal fizzle in an emotional dead end -- bittersweet and somewhat cathartic with where it lets the film's pensiveness go, but ultimately unfounded in its destination. You get the sense that the Foenkinos' brothers want to profess something a bit deeper about the tough nature of moving on and personal metamorphosis, but it doesn't materialize here. Instead, those twinges of absorbing emotion and Nathalie's genuine clamming-up at the beginning of Delicacy are reduced to a palatable, meekly expressive game of hide-'n-seek.
Video and Audio:
Elements of Entertainment One's transfer for Delicacy can be pretty impressive, capturing the sparse Swedish-inspired workspaces and earthy French outdoors in this fine 1.85:1-framed treatment. It occasionally has a vérité vibe to its movement through Nathalie's apartment, but the camera lingers long enough in those shots to capably capture fine detail in clothing and furniture fabric. Other moments in the film are more steadily-composed, such as a long zoom into Tautou's face during the funeral scene. You'll also notice one of the treatment's flaws in that scene, in the light, slightly off-balance contrast and heavier grain, though it's never terribly off-putting. Where it counts, however, this 1080p treatment delivers: excellent detail in all close-ups, cool and warm skin tones that are quite aware of the scenes' proper lighting, and a clear perspective on color choices.
Nothing to complain about in the 5-channel Master Audio track, either, where the fluid French (and occasional Swedish) dialogue aren't the only elements that bear mentioning. Yes, verbal clarity remains the most important thing here, and it showcases a superb ear for awareness of where the dialogue's taking place. Audrey Taotou's velvety voice come across sweet and strong, where Markus' thicker vocals dip into the lower regions. Slight sound effects sound really strong here too, though, such as the slight clicking of a cell-phone's buttons in a whisper-quiet apartment, and the subtle taps of Nathalie's shoes as she walks through her office building. Also, the music here -- whether it's classic tracks or the original score that fits Audrey Tautou well -- sounds robust and delicate where it's needed. Surround activity doesn't frequently go to the rear channels, but overall it's a lovely and natural presentation.
Nothing much to get excited about in the supplemental department, though the Making-of Featurette (24:53, SD) isn't too shabby. You'll see several behind-the-scenes shots alongside interviews with the Foenkinos brothers, where they discuss the intimacy of the plot, working with Audrey Tautou, the art design, and how the music molds with the actors extremely well. Fine interviews with Audrey Tautou, François Damiens , and other cast and crew make it worth the look. An Interview with Audrey Tautou (3:08, SD) can also be played, though it's merely the raw information of her interviews in the behind-the-scenes material (alongside a few unused bits, I think).
A high-definition Theatrical Trailer (1:49, HD), a good one, rounds out the remainder of the features.
Delicacy is one of those movies that I wanted to like more than I did: an intimate romantic drama-comedy about defeating the pressures of grief and loss, and -- with a few shakes of insight into changing as a person and accepting differences -- rediscovering passion with an unlikely source. The performances come close to selling the idea, too, especially with Audrey Tautou taking on the mental space of a mourning widow who, after closing herself off to the world by throwing herself into work, attempts to let someone new and totally unexpected knock down her barriers. Everything doesn't quite snap together, though; characters act a little oddly, especially from the start of Nathalie and Markus' relationship, and there's less substance holding everything together once it come to an end. Tautou makes it enjoyable, but the straightforward dram-com story possesses less think-worthy elements than it needed. Entertainment One's Blu-ray presents the film exceptionally well, though, so it'll make the Rental really worth the time.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site