August 10, 2003

Does Everything Really Sound Sexier in French?


On Friday, PCC and friend K8 trekked uptown to the somewhat swanky arthouse venue, the Paris Theater, for a showing of the new Merchant-Ivory film, Le Divorce. PCC had that familiar tension in her stomach, the tug-o-war between her sky-high expectations of the film, owing from her recent completion of the Diane Johnson novel upon which it is based, and the subsequent fear that since she was so excited, the film in question would be worse than a Russell Crowe double feature. That said, Le Divorce wasn't half bad. In fact, it was damn enjoyable.

This is not to say that there weren't some minor irritations and plot confusions. But overall, when the curtain closed (and at the Paris Theater, it really did!) on Friday night, PCC's anxious stomach was placated. But first, let's get complaints out of the way. PCC and K8 both agreed that the narrative was a bit choppy. Not so much that one's enjoyment of the film was significantly lessened, but enough that there were several moments of puzzlement, of head-scratching and double takes: "now, how did that happen?" "how does that fit in?" PCC bets that most of these narrative hiccups are due to the fact that Johnson's novel is so replete with details and subtle plot points that transferring them all into a two hour film would be impossible.


On a related note, PCC and K8 both noted the fact that Kate Hudson's Isabel was rather one-dimensional. This is sad, since in the book she was well-rounded-a heroine you felt you could relate to. But again, the task of condensing a densely detailed 300-page novel into a two hour film is most likely to blame. It should also be noted, in the film's defense, that the novel is told in first person by Isabel herself, while the film (thankfully) avoids a similar voice-over narration. So, while Hudson did an excellent job with what she was given, PCC can't help but wonder how amazing she would have been if the entire book had been made into a film, albeit one several times the length of The Godfather.


Enough quibbling about adaptation problems, on to some praise! PCC must congratulate Naomi Watts for another stellar performance. As Roxie, the 'American in Paris', Watts is able to convey all the hurt and rejection she feels when her French husband, Charles-Henri, leaves her unexpectedly for a strange Russian woman named Magda, as well as the increasing anger over the perceived sexism of the French legal system when it comes to divorce. And all this is accomplished with a tilt of the head, a stray tear, a concise yet biting speech in the lawyer's office. There are also the instances that are just as brilliant, though nowhere near as subtle. PCC's favorite is when the diminutive- and pregnant!- Watts launches a purse-attack on poor Matthew Modine, the slightly psychotic American husband of Magda. Just when you think Roxie has taken the high road and walked away from the situation, back she flies, almost leaping onto Modine's back and giving him one last thwack over the head with her bag. Priceless.

Overall, with its lush shots of Paris and the French countryside, Le Divorce should be chalked up as another hit for Mechant-Ivory. Sure, it might not be as critically regarded as the several E.M. Forrester adaptations Ismail and James have to their credit, but this latest venture has a terrific cast, an intriguing story and, of course, Paris. What more can you ask for?

Posted by jordan at August 10, 2003 10:50 PM