It’s a measure of real talent when the older generation steals the show from the young.


An Illusion review by Joan Ellis

             “Le Divorce” can give you a good time if you overlook a nearly ruinous number of flaws.  Bad news first:  Director James Ivory and his collaborator, Ruth Prawer Jhbvala apparently couldn’t bear to leave out any of the detail from the novel they adapted for the screen.  The film overflows with such a confusing array of subplots and characters that no one person in the huge cast is fully defined.  Good news:  some of the actors are so good that just watching them work is reward enough.

                Try making sense of this:  Isabel Walker (Kate Hudson) is the American in Paris, there to visit her sister, Roxeanne (Naomi Watts), who married Yves (Romain Duris) against her family’s much better judgment.  Yves has just left his wife without explanation.  Isabel finds a job as assistant to American writer Olivia Pace (Glenn Close) and immediately undertakes one affair with Olivia’s handyman and another with perpetual TV talking head Edgar Cosset (Thierry Lhermitte).

                The now abandoned Roxeanne is left to negotiate her divorce settlement, including the question of who gets a potentially valuable painting on loan from her family (It’s a French painting, say the French, and it should stay in France.) Matthew Modine, as Tellman, husband of Yves’ lover, is ludicrous as the jealous spouse whose multiple appearances jar the movie badly.  Suzanne de Persand (Leslie Caron), mother of the man who has deserted his wife, makes it her job to highlight the French/American cultural differences that are the fun of the film. 

                The American family (played with glee by Sam Waterson, Stockard Channing, and Thomas Lennon) should have been given more screen time.  Ms. Channing is especially deft at conveying the kind of American – spirited but uncosmopolitan  – that the French don’t understand and can’t abide.   The Americans take their lumps:  idealism about love and marriage, utter lack of sophistication about food, obsession with money.  And so do the French:  they are always right – about everything.   

                It’s a measure of real talent when the older generation steals the show from the young.  Thierry Lhermitte, Glen Close, and Leslie Caron are canny enough to turn small bits into scenes to remember.  Mr. Lhermitte is terrific as the Frenchman who handles serial mistresses with aplomb – a Hermes handbag as a greeting, a scarf as a good-bye.  Glenn Close creates a successful American writer comfortable enough with herself that she doesn’t try to be French even as she enjoys – on her terms - whatever the culture offers her.  Leslie Caron brings focus to the chaos simply by announcing what is right and wrong with everyone else (“Americans don’t commit crimes of passion.  They only fight over money and drugs.”)

                It’s the chaos that ultimately undoes the film.  Unable to edit themselves, the Merchant Ivory team strands the actors who don’t yet know how to make a mountain of a molehill.  The several who are expert with molehills make the movie worth the trip. 

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