A Merchant/Ivory Film
Fox Searchlight Studio
A Merchant Ivory/Radar Pictures Production
At the Paris Theatre
4 West 58th Street, NY, NY
Director: James Ivory; Screenplay by James Ivory and
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala; Based on a novel by Diane Johnson; Producers: Ismail Merchant and Michael Schiffer; Executive Producers: Ted Field, Scott Kroopf, Erica Huggins; Director of Photography;
John David Allen; Costume Designer: Carol Ramsey;
Co Producers: Paul Bradley and Richard Hawley
Starring: Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts, Jean-Marc Barr, Leslie Caron, Stockard Channing, Glenn Close, Romain Duris, Stephen Fry, Samuel Labarthe, Thomas Lennon, Thierry Lhermitte, Daniel Mesguich, Matthew Modine, Bebe Neuwirth, Melvil Poupaud, Nathalie Richard, Catherine Samie, Sam Waterson
By Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
September 6, 2003
Originally Published on ExploreDance.com
To the familiar strains of Django Reinhardt Swing, this dry film opened to a scene of California sisters reuniting in Paris. The pregnant expatriate sister is about to lose her callous husband to a gorgeous, Russian vamp, and the very American sister is about to become quite European with a lover, scarves, new hairdo, and a shiny Hermes, red, alligator bag. Leslie Caron, as Roxy's (Naomi Watts) mother-in-law, is all class and French reserve, saying "Of Course" to every family disaster and behavior flaw. Her own brother, who appears on TV as a political moralist, has a string of lovely young lovers, including Isabel (Kate Hudson), the Santa Barbara sister, who is supposed to be caring for her jilted, pregnant sister.
There are subplots, with the Russian vamp's jealous and violent husband, played by Matthew Modine, stalking his wife's lover's family, and of various romps between lawyers and clients, as well as an aging, hippie-type, expatriate writer, soulfully characterized by Glenn Close, playing mind-games with her former lover (Thierry Lhermitte), who is none other than her now assistant's (Isabel's) lover.
There is also a more esoteric sub-plot with a guessing game about the value of a real or knock-off Georges de La Tour painting, owned by Roxy and Isabel's family, and part of a marital property battle. Bebe Neuwirth plays a great art dealer for the Getty Museum, and there are also dealers for the Louvre and for Christie's. The girls' parents, stoic and very cool parents from California, Stockard Channing and Sam Waterson, have small, weak roles.
The scenes of Paris were surreal and scintillating, but distant and architectural. I felt as though I were over and around Paris, not within it. In fact there were so many aerial scenes, the film could have been made from a helicopter. The extended photography lens was, for me, a metaphor for the emotional and physical interplay of the relationships portrayed in Le Divorce. Characters were distant from one another, the parents were understated and introspective, Leslie Caron and brother, Edgar, were disconnected from intense communication in their confrontational phone call, Edgar's wife actually had Sunday dinner with her husband's lover and showed no bitterness or discomfort, and Charles-Henri, the unfaithful husband, exhibited neither love for his wife or young daughter nor warm thoughts of the new baby.
One of the only connected characters was Tellman, the jilted and jealous husband, who went on a campy rampage in the Eiffel Tower, after some violence at an ice rink. He showed pain and angst, followed by a request for therapy! Glenn Close was connected to Edgar, by photos and fond memories, and Roxy's lawyer, as well as Isabel's co-worker in a non-profit Foundation, were all hormones with their respective American conquests.
I enjoyed this film for the French ambiance, Paris photography, and sumptuous interiors. However, the emotional interiors were stark and vacant. This did not seem to be an intended effect, just misguided direction and film creation. There were not enough psychological layers or chemical connections, but rather shallow sex or art auction strategies. I almost wished for the Director to leave and for the characters to assume the natural roles that would ensue from this tragic-comedic, bi-cultural plot. Ismail Merchant and James Ivory can do better.