“Delicacy” is well-named, all right. The French romantic comedy-drama takes a couple of sudden tonal shifts requiring a delicate touch from the writing-directing team of David and Stephane Foenkinos.
But the brothers display a sure hand with the story (based on a novel by David Foenkinos), and with a winsome lead performance by Audrey (“Amelie”) Tautou, “Delicacy” is a worthy new entry in the long list of contemporary Parisian love stories.
At first, the film seems like it will tell the love story of Nathalie (Tautou) and Francois (Pio Marmai), a cute couple who meet in a cafe and are soon married. Their lives seem perfect -- until Francois is killed in a car accident. The Foenkinos don’t spare the audience from experiencing the many tiny wounds of Nathalie’s grief, such as discovering the book Francois was reading, the bookmark still marking his place halfway through.
Shellshocked, Nathalie throws herself into her work at a Swedish company, and three years later, she’s a powerful executive. But then, inexplicably, she’s emotionally drawn to one of her employees, a lunky Swede named Markus (Francois Damiens).
Markus can’t fathom what the elegant, petite Frenchwoman sees in a sweet goofball like himself, and feels way out of his league. “It’s like Lichtenstein was walking with the United States,” as he says walking with her on the banks of the Seine. And then, seeing her standing by the river, the lights of the Eiffel Tower twinkling romantically in the distance -- he panics and runs away.
The second half of “Delicacy” is really funny, which is welcome after the glum tone of the first half. Both Damiens and Tautou are expert comic performers, generating sweet chemistry as a very unlikely but convincing couple. Markus may be the most inept boyfriend in France, but every wrong he commits (like buying Nathalie a Pez dispenser as a Christmas present) somehow ends up being just what Nathalie needs.
“Delicacy” takes yet another shift in a poetic final scene, a single shot in which Markus imagines Nathalie in all the phases of her life, and finally fulfills his potential as a romantic hero. We always knew they’d get there in the end, but “Delicacy” takes some odd yet engaging turns along the way. ‘Delicacy’
* * *
Cast: Audrey Tautou, Francois Damiens, Bruno Todeschini, Mélanie Bernier, Josephine de Meaux
Directors: Stephane Foenkinos, David Foenkinos
Running time: 1:48
Rating: PG-13; strong language