Fanny Ardant and Gérard Depardieu are on the Rocks; Emmanuelle Béart is on the job.
DIRECTED BY ANNE FONTAINE/FRENCH/2003
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: JULY 19, 2022/COHEN MEDIA GROUP (Via KINO LORBER)
There is no Nathalie. That’s not a spoiler for this film, the absorptive 2003 French relationship thriller/drama Nathalie…. Rather, it’s part of the initial deal struck by the two lead women of this very female-fronted story.
Directed and co-written by Anne Fontaine (2016’s The Innocents; 2019’s White as Snow), Nathalie… lands firmly on the “hit” side of her hit & miss filmography. Not everyone would agree, as Fontaine’s film is predicated on several known unknowns and what could be considered “contrivances”. Catherine and Bernard (Fanny Ardant and Gérard Depardieu, who’s overall involvement amounts to an important cursory presence) are an affluent longtime married couple caught in the conventional doldrums of bland blah blibbidy-nothin’. She heads a successful gynecological practice; he travels a lot in the interests of whatever his high-falutin job is. That detail is unimportant; what matters is what he’s been up to when away.
And, she finds out. She finds out he’s had an affair. A one-night stand, at least. When he does the cliché cornered husband thing of trying to convince her that “It meant nothing…! Really baby…! I only have eyes for you”! She won’t have it. So, she does what most any dishonored wife would do: she heads to a local house of ill repute and hires a professional woman of the night to get at and seduce him. A curious ploy, to be sure…
Marlène (Emmanuelle Béart), an enigmatic presence exuding a lair of impossible class spread thin over an unfiltered bedrock of crass, will do perfectly. Then, perhaps most importantly, Marlène must report back- with full details- in person after their dalliances. To protect herself, she creates a new persona- a sexpot avatar of sorts- called Nathalie. What Marlène describes of Bernard’s numerous meetings with Nathalie could certainly set a room ablaze. It’s all fuel for Catherine’s distain- distain that bleeds into a floggingly awful kind of self-retribution.
Though never laid out overtly, one can deduce that between her own clinical mind for female plumbing as a perpetual wet blanket in her own bedroom, as well as her physical aging, Catherine likely views herself as at least part of the issue. But as Marlène’s “Nathalie” reports ramp up in explicit intensity, Catherine’s attitude about the whole affair shifts. She finds herself increasingly immersed into this sexual fantasy she’s purchasing for her husband. But then, it’s not for him at all…
The brimming subtleties of Ardant’s performance drive the film, which proves to be an absorbing if maybe predictable watch. But predictability in and of itself is of course not a bad thing, and Nathalie… is one of those instances. Fontaine’s approach is a cool but not remote one, sidelining such common elements such as exploitation and dramatic outbursts. Marlène’s shift from fantasy vixen to troubled human in need is the stuff of narrative drama well handled. So too is Catherine’s shift from austere patron to outright benefactor, and the consequences of such a relationship. (The very French Nathalie…, on the whole, is quite superior to filmmaker Atom Egoyan’s 2009 English language remake, Chloe).
Cohen Media Group’s recent Blu-ray of Nathalie… (via Kino Lorber) is a sophisticated presentation in terms of image, audio, and English subtitles, though frustratingly short of any decent bonus features. Nathalie… needn’t be viewed as any kind of insubstantial quickie. There’s more to it-to her- than that. But then, that’s the whole point.