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Anyone who has loved and lost–whether through the death of a significant other or a dropped relationship–can identify with the delicate plight of the principal character in David Foenkinos and Stéhane Foenkinos’ “Delicacy.” The writer and directors, whose previous work, a short comedy “Une histoire de pieds” (about a couple’s first date as seen from the perspective of a foot), deliver a comedy-drama with the light, Gallic touch that is rarely seen in American romances.
Audrey Tautou, far more down-to-earth as Nathalie Kerr than she was in the overrated “Amélie,” is perfectly cast as a thirty-something woman deeply in love with her husband, François (Pio Marmaï, who is killed in the prime of his life in an automobile accident. She grieves, asking her chauvinistic boss Charles (Bruno Todeschini) to &ldquoile on the work”–a reaction perhaps in tune with the usual advice of friends to “keep busy” in order to forget her heartache. Charles had offered her a job in the Paris headquarters of a Swedish company because he is smitten at first site. He parlays what he believe to be her gratitude into courting her, taking her to dinner at a romantic restaurant. But he taken aback when Nathalie tells him straight out that she is not attracted to him and never will be.
“Delicacy” moves from a straightforward drama about loss and the brutish comings-on of a colleague into an idiosyncratic comedy that works on all levels. When Nathalie, in a move that will surprise a film audience as much as it did the two people involved, plants a long kiss on the lips of Markus (François Damiens)–a balding, overweight, awkward, Swedish-born redhead–the stage is set for a switch into comedy. Markus is amazed that anyone could love him, ever, given his dorky appearance and schlumpy clothes. Sophie (Joséhine de Meaux) is equally shocked upon meeting the gent, aghast that her best friend Nathalie could fall for such a guy&ndasharticularly considering that she had been married to the hunky François. The couple are humiliated that everyone appears to wonder what she could possibly see in her new beau, whom Nathalie considers just a good friend for such a stretch that we in the audience must wonder when they will get it on.
The picture’s comic highlight is contained in Nathalie’s fantasy of what life must have been like for Markus, living with his parents seen here jabbering in Swedish–a language that in no way can be considered as mellifluous as French. Nor can Markus see much value in the country of his birth. Asked why he left fifteen years back to live in France, Markus acts surprised that anyone could think of spending a lifetime in Sweden. (He might have at least given his Scandanivan birthplace the compliment of surviving the bloody twentieth century without having to go to war.)
Madeleine (Monique Chaumette), Nathalie’s grandmother, appears to be the only person to accept Markus at first sight, a symbol to the idea that looks are merely skin deep. She senses right off that Markus is a good man, welcoming him into her home with a genuine affection missing in all of Nathalie’s circle. Let this film serve as counsel to all who simply cannot understand what any two lovers see in each other.