Thursday, 21 April 2005

5x2 (aka Cinq Fois Deux aka Five Times Two) (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

Francois Ozon directs a film...backwards. I've always thought there was a certain logic to telling a story the wrong way round - perhaps a response to Lyotard's suggestion that there is no grand narrative in postmodernity. Memento does it for shocks and a headfuck; 5x2 is more subtle and poignant. The first time we see Marion and Gilles (the commendable Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Stephane Freiss) is in the lawyer's office at their divorce; then they go back to a cheap hotel room for a last, mid-afternoon fuck, which turns nasty. The next time we see them, they're preparing to have guests over for dinner: Gilles's gay brother and his new boyfriend, who provoke a daring debate about fidelity in relationships. (There are no Hollywood signposts to say "Hey guys, looky here: this was SIX MONTHS EARLIER." Ozon trusts his audience's intelligence.) Then we see the troubled birth of their son, who had been four years old at the time of the dinner party. Then the marriage, and finallly, their surprise meeting on holiday. They had worked together without really knowing each other and chose the same package retreat in Italy by chance; Gilles with his girlfriend, Marion alone after her friend had let her down shortly before their planned trip to Senegal.

In a similar way to Closer, we see their relationship in five moments of crisis (hence the 5 of the title): the rough edges which lead to the divorce come out of the woodwork as their story is put backwards through the mill. In the final fuck scene, Gilles forces her to have sex when she was refuses (he rapes her); the dinner party reveals that Gilles's attitude towards marital fidelity is at odds with Marion's, and he embarrasses her about it in public; at the wedding there is the suggestion that Marion commits the first act of betrayal with an American stranger (Gilles had been too pissed and tired to consummate their wedding bed - had she gone out looking for it?); then when they meet on holiday, their flirtation together is an act of infidelity in itself, even though Gilles was clearly near the end of a four-year relationship with his present girlfriend.

Ozon's view of human nature in this film is tinged with melancholic pessimism. The men seem like monsters: forcing women to have sex without consent; failing to turn up at births; tolerating infidelity; and yet the women, despite seeming the victims, are also not without blame: Marion's mother is an old witch who nags her husband and evidently irritates him; Gilles's girlfriend (from the beginning of the narrative/the end of the film) is cold and spiteful; Marion ventures out on her wedding night, still dressed in her fancy underwear underneath jeans, seemingly out for an adventure of sorts, although she tries hard at first to block the American stranger's advances; we do not know how far they go together, although she seems to be giving in to his forcefulness.

The final shot, with Marion and Gilles wading off into the sea, towards the familiar sunset, is embittered with irony: we already know that it all ends unhappily: by inverting the film's syntax, Ozon destroys that mythical happy ending which movies so often feed us.

One wonders, also, in which order it was shot. At the divorce, Gilles has a beard; then at the dinner party, he looks younger with shorter stubble; at the birth and the wedding he looks younger still, clean-shaven; on holiday, he has a tan: perhaps that means it was shot in the order 2,3,4,5,1 (2 being the wedding, 5 the divorce and 1 the holiday). Cut together in the right order, it would be nothing special - perhaps a TV drama; shown in reverse, one finds magic lurking in the darkness.

Nugget: perhaps not the masterpiece I was expecting, but certainly a slow-burner that will be worth watching again. (French with English subtitles.)

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