Need a date-night movie for someone you’re trying to impress with your highbrow taste? “Delicacy” should do the trick. Starring the lovely Audrey Tautou (“Amelie“ and “Dirty Pretty Things"), the subtitled “Delicacy” is based on the eponymous novel by writer/director David Foenkinos and combines just the right amount of sadness, sentiment, and romance for the genre. You’ll be in each other’s arms in no time.
Nathalie (Tautou) is a very thin business executive married to the man of her dreams, Francois. Dark haired and handsome, he’s self-confident and romantic. They have a cozy life together, entertaining the folks each Sunday (the French know what family values actually mean) and fending off their nagging about grandchildren with fond amusement. Suddenly, Francois is killed in an accident, and Nathalie falls down a well of grief. It takes her days to get off the couch, but when she does, she unconvincingly decides to get rid of all of Francois’s things right away, dumping them in a bag and parking it on the curb, and goes back to her job.
Work is her salvation, as it is for many people in personal distress. The years go by, she climbs the corporate ladder at the mysterious Swedish firm where she works (we never find out what they make or sell) and from the outside, she looks okay. Of course, we know that she’s living a half life, her emotional self in the deep freeze. Her manager, Charles (Bruno Todeschini), tries to make a move, but she cuts him off abruptly, and her co-workers learn to keep their distance.
Then Nathalie runs into another employee at the firm, a big, disheveled Swede named Markus, and although he’s quiet and shy, he makes her laugh. Belgian/French comic actor Francois Damiens plays Markus as a good-natured goofball, and although he looks quite normal, we’re meant to understand that his chic ranking is far beneath Nathalie’s. Her dark skirts are certainly better cut than his saggy sweaters. Everyone is astonished that she seems to like spending time with him, with Markus just as surprised as the others. When she brings him over to a small party at her friend’s place, people can’t stop staring at him, as if he had two heads. This weakness in the script--we never see Markus doing anything really peculiar--undermines our faith in Nathalie‘s perceptions. Maybe it’s clear to a French audience what’s wrong with the guy, but it wasn’t to me.
Markus finally decides to take this relationship seriously, and the movie gets schmaltzier, as all good date-night movies are supposed to. These films usually depend on just the right tone, and what Foenkinos is going for--sweetly sad and funny--doesn’t always land. Tautou is less confident than Damiens, and her brusqueness is sometimes overplayed. We see her grief rather than feel it, so she seems unnecessarily harsh and cold (as cold as Tautou can seem anyway) when friends and colleagues suggest that it’s time she moves on with her life. We haven’t seen her out with anyone else, which makes it harder to understand why she’s so taken with Markus. This time, her gamine charm doesn’t work for her.
Still, “Delicacy” isn’t painful viewing. At least, it’s not embarrassing, as many of these type of films are. It’s just the appetizer, anyway, before the dish you’re anticipating.