French writer-director Arnaud Desplechin ("My Sex Life... Or How I Got Into An
Argument") saw fit to make a complex story of love, marriage, divorce,
estrangement, and romantic discovery into a saga length tragedy with
antic humor and heaps of melodrama. There's an air of all too much
self-importance to its 150 minute endlessness.
There was a time when Nora (Emmanuelle Devos) loved her 2nd husband Ismael,
but her steady nature and need for stability brought her to divorce the
disheveled, neurotic musician, though feelings linger even as, at 35, she
finds career success as a gallery director and marriage to a wealthy
Which is a good thing since Nora and Ismael's lives continue to intersect.
Ismael's life is the kind of mess that follows from his erratic nature and as
a magnet for troublesome developments. His sister commits him to a mental
institution, where he fights for his sanity against an unbendable clinical
psychiatrist (Catherine Deneuve) and where he meets Arielle, a saucy,
suicidal fellow inmate who may be no crazier than he. When she lets it be
known that her need for him goes beyond just being pals, he puts her off.
He's not over the failure of his marriage with Nora, for whom his heart still
Nora's father Ismael, a morose writer, is dying. She calls her drug addict
sister Chloe to come home and be with them before it's too late. She tracks
Ismael down at the institution and asks him to adopt her young son from her
first marriage, Elias, in order to secure legal recognition for the boy.
Ismael's lawyer, whom he's consulted in order to clear his name, is a
character with an off beat reaction to his appetite for drugs, evidenced by
leading his client to a pharmacy raid at the sanitarium before springing him
Nora finishes the work of nature by administering an overdose of painkiller
to her father, who dies of respiratory disease. Daddy gets his revenge in
his memoire, which concludes with a vile condemnation of Nora, whom he
accuses of being too egotistical for his liking, and declares his undying
hatred of her. Coulda' fooled me.
"Write what you know," is the old edict. I think that's what Desplechin has
done here... in spades. For me, his best move was to cast the consistently
fascinating Devos as his female lead. In her calm, intelligent way, she
leads you through this rock pile of intimacies and enigmas with a magnetism
that fastens you even as the fatigue becomes laborious.
~~ Jules Brenner