Watching the French romance Delicacy, I thought of the Seinfeld episode in which Jerry can't follow a movie plot. Who's that guy? What just happened? There's a randomness to Delicacy that reminds me of irksome American indie comedies like Gigantic and The Good Heart, which ask us to laugh when characters drolly act in ways that don't resemble actual human behavior. That makes me antsy, and I was ready to give up on Delicacy. But I was smiling by the time it was over.
Here's what else made me antsy about Delicacy: It stars Audrey Tautou. I'm still traumatized by Tautou's signature film, Amélie, which electrified American art house audiences. I found its whimsy deeply irritating, and there is some of that in Delicacy. But here Tautou is playing a grieving widow, and I admire the sadness and toughness she brings to these scenes, which favorably recall her unsmiling performance in the title role of Coco Before Chanel.
Delicacy is based on the French author David Foenkinos' novel La Délicatesse, and it was directed by Foenkinos and his brother, Stéphane. The film follows Tautou's character, Nathalie, through a series of romantic engagements. Early on, at a cafe, she encounters Franois (Pio Marma) in an overly cute meet-cute. They get married after an overly cute proposal.
Meanwhile, Nathalie begins working at an office overseen by caddish Charles (Bruno Todeschini), who has his eye on her. Then Franois is killed in an accident, and in quick scenes, years pass. Nathalie rises in her company's hierarchy, and her best friend (Joséphine de Meaux) settles down and has a kid.
Then comes the most random development. An employee, a Swede named Markus (Franois Damiens), visits Nathalie's office, and without warning, she crosses the room to kiss him. The rest of the film follows this pair's romance as it encounters various obstacles. Whether you like Delicacy may depend on how plausible you find this kissing scene. I think it's perplexing, nearly fatally so.
But after Delicacy finds its rhythm, it comes up with interesting observations about workplace romance in a changing France. At first I thought Charles' overtures to Nathalie made him just another caricature of a randy French guy. (In today's working world, Pepe le Pew would get slapped with a harassment suit before his first c'est l'amour.) But it turns out everyone perfectly understands what's at stake, and Nathalie is mindful of her boss' advances as her relationship develops with Markus, who is her underling.
Delicacy is lifted by the performance of Damiens, who brings an awkward sweetness to Markus. He's a dweeb, but unlike in an American romance, he actually, gratifyingly, looks like a dweeb. He doesn't have much hair left. His teeth aren't great. Nathalie's friends don't understand what she sees in him. Will these two make it together or what? I like the answer Delicacy comes up with.