Films

Published on November 14th, 2006 | by Hans Fruck

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Nathalie

In Nathalie, the French prove yet again (not that they needed to) that they have a better grasp of the nuances of fornication than any other nationality on the face of the Earth.

Catherine (Fanny Ardant) discovers that her husband, Bernard (Gerard Depardieu) is having an affair. She confronts him, and he says, “Don’t worry, it’s only good, healthy mattress gymnastics. It meant nothing. You’re still my wife. What’s for dinner?” Or something like that.

Catherine, it’s fair to say, is nonplussed by this response, perhaps even a trifle sad. Her husband, after all, seems less gymnastically inclined when it’s her on the mattress. Rather than castrate him, Catherine decides — in what should be the model for all wives — to hire a prostitute, Nathalie (Emmanuelle Beart), to pose as someone who doesn’t get paid for sex, and come-on to Bernard.

I’ll be perfectly honest: at this point in the film, I was a bit bewildered. I’m not an expert on these matters, but I doubt that hiring a prostitute to bang your husband is a common response to infidelity. (Not even in France.) So I’d hardly blame the audience if they decided to hit the Pause button and workshop the plausibility of this plot twist.

Anyway, whether it’s an attempt by a jilted wife to control the sexuality of her husband — as the DVD dust-jacket contends — or a convoluted form of revenge, or a flight of fancy that goes too far, Nathalie is soon regaling Catherine with X-rated accounts of all the various ways in which Bernard penetrates her floodplain — not to mention all her other orifices.

Meanwhile, Bernard plays it innocent, gazing dolefully at Catherine and pretending that he’s not regularly hanging from the chandeliers with the hottest piece of arse in France. Catherine, however, knows better.

So. That’s the basic premise, and what a premise it is. I don’t know what they put in the water in France, but I can’t imagine any other country coming up with a story like this. Even so, any film that combines sex with Emmanuelle Beart gets the Bedroom Salute from yours truly.

All smartarsery aside, Nathalie is genuinely good and intriguing. Director Anne Fontaine combines with cinematographer Jean-Marc Fabre and editor Emmanuelle Castro to produce a film that’s superbly shot and spliced. Throw in Michael Nyman’s lovely (though rather Gattaca-esque) soundtrack and you have a film of 360° quality.

I’m not generally a fan of Depardieu, but he gives Bernard a fittingly apologetic and hangdog demeanor around Catherine. The film’s heart, though, is the interaction between the two women. Such is the force and subtlety of their performances that you end up taking their predicament seriously. Ardant manages to suggest great depth and turmoil behind Catherine’s genteel reserve, while Beart makes Nathalie likable and vampish without recourse to the usual filmic clichés of slutdom. Most of all, the cross-currents that surge between the women are both charged and — within the particular cinematic universe this film has constructed — believable.

Part psychosexual drama, part romance, and totally French, Nathalie is a worthwhile expenditure of two hours. Just sit back and luxuriate in your beanbag as you ponder the many different manoeuvres of cheatin’, cheatin’ hearts.

-HS Fruck


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