MOVIE REVIEW: Tautou again leaves audiences broken-hearted with ‘Delicacy’

Delicacy (NR)

2 out of 4 stars

After appearing in a dozen or so low-rent TV and theatrical art films, French actress Audrey Tautou finally hit the (relative) big time in 2001 as the title character in "Amelie." The fifth highest-grossing foreign language film in U.S. history, "Amelie" allowed Tautou to position herself as the next Audrey Hepburn. With her big brown eyes, perfect face, lithe figure and warm screen presence, Tautou is sexy without being a tart and never seems to be trying too hard to impress; which of course impresses everyone.

With the well-noted exception of "The Da Vinci Code," "Delicacy" is more or less like everything else Tautou has done since "Amelie." It's kind of OK, but not great and again finds Tautou juggling comedy and drama with perfunctory competence but little in the way of the kind of memorable excellence she displayed in "Amelie." She's not exactly throwing her career away -- she just seems to be operating on cruise control.

The first 30 minutes of "Delicacy" are by far the best and are quite reminiscent of "Amelie." Nathalie (Tautou) is a mid-level manager in a Swiss-owned generically unspecific Parisian company. Efficient in her work but not particularly driven, Nathalie is regularly flirted with by her boss Charles (Bruno Todeschini) and she regularly but politely brushes him off. Charles is also smart enough never to press the issue or get too crass.

In manner you only see in the movies, Nathalie "meets cute" with the dark, smoldering and exceedingly affable Francois (Pio Marmai) in a cafe and they become an instant item. Their courtship isn't anything special and neither is their marriage, which means it won't last long. Without giving too much away, Nathalie goes into an understandably deep funk without Francois by her side and pretty much determines she'll never find love again.

Completely misreading the situation, Charles tries picking up where he left off earlier but this time Nathalie isn't so gentle with her rebuff. The scene where she finally makes it clear she's never going to be interested in him is handled diplomatically but with considerable sting and easily marks the film's high point. If women (or men for that matter) were ever interested in witnessing a "dump" speech, they could pilfer and claim as there own, this is it.

Good at drama and even better at comedy, Tautou is charged with playing angry and sad during the long middle stretch and it simply doesn't suit her. While ill-fitting, it is what co-director brothers Stephane and David Foenkinos (also the screenwriter adapting his own novel) have Nathalie do next that throws everything off-kilter. Without any kind of narrative segue, rhyme or reason, the filmmakers have Nathalie walk up to co-worker Markus (Francois Damiens) -- who has yet to utter a single word of establishing dialogue -- and plant a big wet kiss on him. Delicate or subtle it is not. It is also not in keeping with the Nathalie character in the least.

It only gets more clunky and awkward from there. The May-December pairing (Damiens is a big, average-looking guy along the lines of Gerard Depardieu) is not only visually odd but the would-be romance between the two gets stuck at the starting gate. Charles can't believe (and neither can we) that a woman like Nathalie could be remotely interested in him and he projects a continuous air of tentativeness and insecurity. It doesn't make it any easier that she does nothing to soothe or build up his fragile ego.

The last 15 minutes does its best to make a recovery and it somewhat succeeds but by this time we just don't care anymore. In the end, neither half of the schizophrenic story is given enough time to establish itself or rev us up sufficiently. It's yet another semi-pleasant misfire for Tautou.

Presented in French with English subtitles. (Cohen Media)