Le Divorce

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Review byMatthew Turner11/08/2003

One out of Five stars
Running time: 117 mins

Nice-looking but extremely messy film, populated with irritating characters and brimming with infuriating dialogue. Le disastre.

Le Divorce is a Merchant Ivory production, based on a novel by Diane Johnson and with a screenplay by their regular collaborator, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. As such, it has all the things one expects of a Merchant Ivory film: a splendid, extensive cast and impressive photography (though you’d have to work pretty hard to make Paris look bad).

However, the characters are an extremely irritating bunch and the sheer weight of all the sub-plots drowns out the story, resulting in a messy, annoying film with some infuriating dialogue.

Menage A Far Too Many

Kate Hudson plays Isabel, the daughter of an American family (Sam Waterston and Stockard Channing) who travels to Paris in order to be with her pregnant sister Roxanne (Naomi Watts). However, when she arrives, she discovers that Roxanne’s husband is on the point of leaving her for another woman, the – ahem - ‘free spirited’ Magda (who appears to be some sort of miming rap artist judging by the ridiculous hand movements she makes over and over again).

At the same time, he has the gall to dispute the ownership of a famous painting that belongs to Roxanne’s family, saying that half of it rightly belongs to him.

Not to be outdone in the drama stakes, Isabel gets a job as an assistant to an American writer (Glenn Close) and quickly racks up a few troubles of her own, starting two simultaneous affairs – one with the writer’s male assistant (Romain Duris) and one with her brother-in-law’s charming uncle Edgar (Thierry Lhermitte). And, as if this weren’t bad enough, Magda’s bonkers American husband (Matthew Modine) begins to stalk Roxanne in the misguided belief that his wife’s affair is all Roxanne’s fault.

Cack-Handed Observational Tendencies

Ostensibly, the film is meant to be a series of observations on the differing attitudes of the Americans and the French when it comes to affairs, mistresses and the like. To be fair, the film is equally critical of both, with neither side emerging with much dignity. It doesn’t help that the characters are all so unlikeable.

That said, the actors do a decent job with what they’re given – Watts in particular is excellent as the emotionally wounded Roxanne. There’s good support, too, from Stockard Channing, Leslie Caron and Glenn Close, as well as extended cameos by Bebe Neuwirth and Stephen Fry as art experts brought in to authenticate the painting. Hudson, however, is just plain irritating and we’re never given the slightest inkling as to what makes her tick (nor do we care).

One of the film’s most annoying scenes occurs when Isabel meets Edgar in a high-rise restaurant. “Is that Notre Dame?”, she asks. “No”, he replies, ever so patronisingly, “It’s over there”. Now, at this point, Isabel is supposed to have been in Paris for several weeks, so it’s inconceivable that she wouldn’t have visited Notre Dame by that point or, at the very least, been able to recognise it.

Equally annoying is a scene towards the end, where a red handbag, supposedly containing a gun, is flung off the Eiffel Tower and floats gaily over the Parisian roof-tops, presumably in homage to The Red Balloon, despite no evidence of magical realism anywhere else in the film.

In short, Le Divorce is messy, patronising and unappealing and should be given a wide berth. Don’t be fooled by the glossiness and the big-name cast – you’ll only hate yourself afterwards.

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Le Divorce
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Content updated: 29/01/2020 11:30

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