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.
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