- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2005

Francois Ozon makes it clear from the outset that “5x2,” a five-episode summary of a failed marriage, booked exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema, will shun a happy ending. The downcast first episode is the ending. Mr. Ozon and his writing collaborator, Emmanuelle Bernheim, who contrived the exceptional tear-jerker “Under the Sand” a few years ago, have taken a crack at the reverse-chronology gambit revived by “Memento.”

Their set of backward glances begins as the estranged couple, Gilles and Marion Ferron (Stephane Freiss and Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) sign a divorce settlement in a judge’s office in Paris. Our attention is called to a very specific date: Feb. 17, 2003. The movie concludes with their impromptu first date several unspecified years earlier, while vacationing at an Italian beach resort.

In retrospect, it appears that Mr. Ozon, a talented pictorialist, designed the whole scenario to accommodate an ironic curtain shot: the newly smitten Gilles and Marion walking into an ocean at twilight, where their heads bob for a while as the take is held long enough to let the sun set over a distant horizon. By that time, one tends to agree that sunsets define this mismatch, but it’s not very rewarding to follow the movie from anticlimactic starting point to metaphorical final image.

We never discover what Gilles or Marion might have done to make a living, although the final episode reveals that they worked in the same office before becoming an item on holiday. They have a young son named Nicolas, about 4 at the time of the divorce. Each backtrack has the effect of enhancing your own sense of estrangement, especially from Gilles, exposed in one contemptible dereliction after another.

Just when you’re thinking that the filmmakers have stacked a bill of abandonment against a wretched husband, not to mention a wretched husband of suspicious sexual proclivities, they sucker punch the wife as well. It seems that Marion was seduced on her wedding night by a total stranger, while drunken Gilles was snoring away in the nuptial chamber. Twists of this kind tend to harmonize better with boudoir farce, but the filmmakers remain in earnest. At least I think so. The mystery lover is an American, if that portends something droll that eludes me.

If the movie were better calculated to sustain dramatic interest or sympathy, it might have evolved into a revealing update of faithlessness and its discontents. There’s no denying that infidelity seems to have left quite a bit of wreckage in its wake. Every so often, Mr. Ozon seems to beseech inspiration from early Ingmar Bergman films about romantic disillusion. Ultimately, rescue is beyond reach. “5x2” finds a way to leave both principal characters and the audience adrift.

* 1/2

TITLE: “5x2”

RATING: No MPAA rating (adult subject matter, consistent with the R category — occasional profanity, nudity and sexual candor, including interludes of simulated intercourse)

CREDITS: Directed by Francois Ozon. Screenplay by Mr. Ozon and Emmanuelle Bernheim. Cinematography by Yorick Le Saux. Production design by Katia Wyszkop. Music by Philippe Rombi. In French with English subtitles

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes

WEB SITE: www.thinkfilmcompany



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