Review: Nathalie…

It presents a portrait of marriage, adultery, and sex that makes about as much sense as the confounding ellipses in its title.

Photo: Koch Lorber Films

Arriving in the States two years after its European debut, Anne Fontaine’s Nathalie… presents a portrait of marriage, adultery, and sex that makes about as much sense as the confounding ellipses in its title. Gynecologist Catherine (Fanny Ardant) learns that her businessman husband Bernard (Gérard Depardieu) is sleeping around by listening to a voicemail message from a postcoitally blissful woman. Confronted with this damning evidence, Bernard admits to his cheating with a shrug, arguing that his trysts are infrequent and largely meaningless. Such explanations, however, aren’t enough for the stoic, blank-faced Catherine, who is so affected by this revelation that she goes to a plush downtown brothel and hires a prostitute named Marlène (Emmanuelle Béart) to both seduce Bernard—using the name Nathalie—and then recount her hardcore experiences for a lucrative fee. Mond dieu! Its conceit one of pure fantasy, Fontaine’s film exists in some sort of bizarre alternate reality in which Depardieu might have a shot at successfully seducing Béart, Ardant would actually pay a woman to screw her husband as a means of learning what turns him (and herself!) on, and women of the night are actually beautiful college graduates who only ply their wares in the flesh industry during off-hours from their respectable beauty salon jobs. Whatever it is that Fontaine and co-screenwriters Jacques Fieschi and François-Olivier Rousseau think they’re saying about fidelity and desire gets hopelessly obscured by the absurdity of their scenario—which eventually involves hints of lesbianism and Catherine’s one-night dalliance with a guy who waxes rhapsodic about Joy Division—and condescension toward their audience, who they somehow assume won’t, from the outset, deduce the eventual third-act twist. Because Béart is so jaw-droppingly foxy, Nathalie’s graphic tales of lubricated hand-jobs and backdoor excursions exude an erotic charge that helps convey the powerful role imagination plays in sex. Unfortunately, much of said sensuality dissipates the moment one remembers that the guy she’s screwing in these stories is Gérard Depardieu. And if its climactic surprise weren’t ridiculous enough, Nathalie… ends on a distinctly conservative note that advocates a punishment-free “forgive and forget” approach to dealing with unfaithful hubbies. Vive l’antifeminisime!

 Cast: Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Béart, Gérard Depardieu, Wladimir Yordanoff, Judith Magre, Rudolphe Pauyly, Evelyne Dandry, Ari Paffgen  Director: Anne Fontaine  Screenwriter: Anne Fontaine, Jacques Fieschi, François-Olivier Rousseau  Distributor: Koch Lorber Films  Running Time: 105 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2003  Buy: Video

Nick Schager

Nick Schager is the entertainment critic for The Daily Beast. His work has also appeared in Variety, Esquire, The Village Voice, and other publications.

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