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It's amusing to read some of the comments in this page of IMDb. Most
postings place the blame for what they perceive as the failure of this
picture on James Ivory, Ismael Merchant and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, the
successful creative team of some of the best movies of recent years. In
fact, the sin they appear to have committed was to adapt the Diane
Johnson's novel about the contrasts she has always written about
between two cultures that should be more similar: the French and
American, yet, as we read in the book, and now watched in the film,
they are not as close as one would imagine.
First, the French one sees portrayed in the film belong to the high classes that are imbued in their traditions, savoir faire, their sense of style and being B.C.B.G., something the Americans, being somehow a new society without those traditions cannot comprehend. Money is a taboo subject to be spoken at all by the wealthy French, whereas in America the flaunting of having made fortunes and having millions is an everyday subject for the higher ups.
Ms. Johnson, who has lived in France for quite some time, is an observant of that society. In her many books about life in that country, the study in the contrasts she sees, are at center stage and the mixing of Americans with the French bourgeoisie produces surprising results that make the reading of her novels more compelling for the joy they bring to her readers.
Isabel, the young American, arriving to stay with her sister Roxanne, takes easily to the new surroundings. In doing so, she completely disregards the established rules when she enters in a liaison with Marc-Henri, who sees the occasion as one for amusing himself for a while. Roxanne, on the other hand, soon discovers what she is against when her French husband decides to ask her for a divorce. Little has prepared her for the consequences that go with it and the archaic laws about a couple's separation in that country, which benefits the husband while punishing the wife.
The other theme at the core of the story is a painting Roxanne has brought with her from San Diego. The possibility of it being a real Delacroix is now at the center of the divorce settlement. Where one can see it has nothing to do with the cheating husband, Suzanne, the mother-in-law deems otherwise because of the possible value the painting will fetch when it's sold.
Naomi Watts makes another great contribution in her appearance as Roxanne. Kate Hudson is not in the same league, although her good looks and natural charm makes one care more for her Isabel. The delicious Leslie Caron plays Madame de Persand with great panache. Just watching her remarking about the granulated sugar Charlotte offers her to sweeten her tea is one of the delights of the film. Tierry Lhermitte is seen as the callous Edgar. Glenn Close plays Olivia Pace, a writer,who might be Diane Johnson's alter ego in the story. Stephen Fry, Stockard Channing, Sam Waterston, and the rest of the French and American cast do a good job.
This film has a feeling of being more French than some French movies. The cinematography of Pierre Lhomme is wonderful as he takes his camera all over the city showing us what a treat it is to be in Paris, even for a visit. The other thing that comes across is the involvement of the late Ismail Marchant to the production. Mr. Merchant got great locales in where to film and had a great eye for the style of the pictures he was producing. His absence, alas, is sadly missed from the latest James Ivory project "The White Countess".
In spite of not being up to some of his best movies, James Ivory still shows he has a keen eye for presenting the material on the screen.
The performances are terrific, Kate Hudson proves that she is the
actress that Goldie Hawn never was, and it is always good to see Leslie
Caron looking her age and looking great. Now, the matter of the plot
has been raised and the consensus so far is that it is a bag of clichés
dumped into a blender and then poured out on film.
True. But, the book was no great shakes either and the screenplay simply has not risen above its origins.
I enjoyed Le Divorce for its cynicism and its predictability, frankly. It is nice every now and then to see a movie that elicits a sour chuckle rather than a guffaw or a shriek, and this is one of them.
James Ivory is not exactly a politically orientated film maker, but it
took some courage, and it was a politic message releasing a film about
Americans living in Paris, and the culture clash between American and
French in 2003. Although his film is more about family relations and
cultural perception, it says a lot about humans being more important in
the relations between two nations than their leaders politics.
Not that the relations in the film are that soft. I know quite well both American and French mentalities, and I appreciate the ironic mirror this film puts in the faces of the two peoples. There is certainly a certain dose of stereotype in the approach, but still the characters are well built, they act with logic most of the time, and some good acting from a bi-lingual team
helps a lot. Paris is still the best location to pick for a film ever. The plot is a little bit too long, and the end suffers from hollywooditis, but overall it is a satisfying cinema experience. I do not like the romantic genre too much, but it was better than I expected. 7 out of 10 on my personal scale.
After viewing the unfortunate "Golden Bowl" (also by James Ivory) the
day before, an exposure to "Le Divorce" was certainly a refreshing sip
of champagne. This may be the first James Ivory movie I've seen where I
forgot to look at the sets (unlike Ivory's other French venture,
"Jefferson in Paris"). This is mostly due to the depth of certain
actors and the fact that this time Ivory decides to close in on them
rather than frame them. When the book came out, as an American living
in Paris for 30 years, I avoided reading another set of American
observations on everything French that foreign residents here hate, and
I can't say that the movie avoids the pitfalls of throwing around
generalities. Yet this is kept to an astonishing minimum, perhaps
because few of the main characters really consider themselves typical
representatives of their native country. Instead of a plethora of
reflections coming out of their mouths, "the French are like this, the
Americans are like that," the viewer can actually draw his own
conclusions about which country has the "nicest" people and the place
of formality when it comes to private matters. After all, would the
story have been that much different if it had dealt with class
differences in New York City? The characters who do tend to generalize
are perhaps the least involved in what is going on. They form the real
"décor" of the film, rather than the wallpaper and polished furniture,
although these elements certainly haven't been omitted.
I find it strange that the two most interesting actors are supposed to belong to the subplot, Kate Hudson and Thierry L'Hermitte. The latter is currently being wasted in his late middle age in French films, and, like Louis Jourdan in "Gigi," manages to bring a little subtle something extra to the most stereotyped part in the film. I'd like to see him extend what he has done here, if any producer or director can be bothered.
The film had such a short run in France that I missed seeing it in a movie theater, and it was dismissed by most French critics on its release like the way that some of the American characters are dismissed by their French counterparts in the film itself. It would be a shame to overlook this light but not lightweight effort, for it has a surprisingly natural charm and raises interesting questions about how much the culture that forms our conditioning influences our very humanity.
Have not read the novel, but the movie itself is slush (not having read
the novel I can't say whether to blame the author).
Supposedly, the story explores the values gulf between America and France, with sex the American taboo and money the French taboo. Sadly, the greatest taboo in this movie is common sense, which seems trapped at the midpoint between the two, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, several miles beneath the surface at the base of the mid-Atlantic rift.
Every time we think something that makes less sense couldn't happen, it does. Characters act stupidly or self-destructively, doing the kind of nasty or narcissistic things that would make them the villain of most any other putative comedy of manners, only to have their clueless behavior transcended (to the downside) in the very next scene.
The only real surprise in the film is that it was made by the same folks who gave us "A Room With A View" and its distinguished successors. Here, that body of work culminates in an anticlimactic thud, as if obscurity were the thing the production team had been seeking to perfect. (Thank goodness they have another film coming out soon.) Rather than engaging the audience, "Le Divorce" is so absurd that about halfway through, it joins the group of films that are so bad you watch to the end just to hoot at the screen.
Our antipathy to the characters is particularly amazing because there is not a bad performance. Most of the excellent cast is quite good, and I was very happy to see Leslie Caron looking so beautiful and healthy. One gets the feeling the actors chose the project because it was a Merchant Ivory film. The only betrayal we end up caring about is that their faith led them here.
The film looks great, yet the script makes us groan. Other than the sister in law and the young daughter of the divorce of the title, the characters are archetypes. The most distinctive personality belongs to a handbag, and the rest of them become so annoying they seem to deserve what they get. The genuine tragedies -- we see them coming two miles away, not just one -- don't carry much impact because these so clearly aren't real people.
"Le Divorce" was meant to be funny, but it plays out as a 90-minute Seinfeld stripped of comedy or plot. The only laughs come from the predictability and unbelievability of events, and the degree to which we don't care about anyone they happen to. Merchant Ivory have, and will, do a lot better than this.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Le Divorce (2003) is not by any stretch a very good movie. But is it -
as a stunning number of IMDb subscribers have dubbed it - "the worst
movie ever made"? Very far from it I'd say, but then I've seen a ton of
real clunkers in over five decades of obsessive movie viewing. While Le
Divorce has more than its fair share of implausible and languorous
moments, I nevertheless managed to stay reasonably awake and
The heavily negative response the film received from American reviewers and on this film site has perhaps less to do with the film's merits (or lack thereof) than with the misleading way it was marketed and to the casting of Kate Hudson in its lead role. Though limited in acting range, Ms. Hudson is blessed with her mother Goldie's winning smile and a screen-persona tailor-made for light comedy. In Le Divorce she seems to have stumbled into an alternate universe, and no doubt her many fans felt the same way upon viewing the film.
However it might be classified (and I'm not sure how that might be), Le Divorce is clearly NOT a romantic comedy geared to the tastes of teens and twenty-somethings. It's probably better not to think of it as a romantic comedy at all - at least not in the usual American sense of a boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets girl plot with a heavy admixture of screwball humor to keep the patrons amused. Quite to the contrary, Le Divorce includes scenes of attempted suicide, stalking, hostage taking, and murder. And these are not handled with humor - screwball, black, or any other form. They are staged with at times all too much seriousness.
Also, "the boy" in the romantic formula turns out to be a notorious 55 year old French sophisticate/philanderer named Edgar Cosset (Thierry Lhermitte) whose M.O. for the conduct of extra-marital affairs includes the gift of an expensive Hermes "Kelly bag" at the start of a relationship and a stylish scarf at its end. One of the running jokes in Le Divorce (admittedly not a belly-whopper) is that every woman in Paris seems to recognize Edgar's seduction methods and instruments except his latest flame, a visiting American ingénue, Isabel Walker (Hudson). Nor does the Edgar-Isabel plot have a happy ending in the manner of Gigi, a film referenced by Le Divorce through the casting of Leslie Caron in a well-done supporting role.
There is no reconciliation to be found in Le Divorce between American post-feminist romantic idealism and French double-standard patriarchy and sexual cynicism. These are two worlds that do not comprehend each other, and never the twain shall meet- well, hardly ever. The film's other romantic plot involving Isabel's older sister, the pregnant poet Roxanne (Naomi Watts) does provide us with a somewhat conventional romantic resolution, by uniting Roxanne not with her divorce-seeking, two-timing French husband (who ends up precipitously and conveniently dead) but with the sympathetic lawyer she hires to represent her in an increasingly ugly property battle with her in-laws. By the time this happens, however, "le divorce" has been relegated to the background, and "l'affaire" between Isabel and Edgar has moved to central prominence in the screenplay.
Naomi Watts is a great actress, but Le Divorce is clearly not her finest moment. Her role is by turns over-the-top dramatically (her poetry reading scene and subsequent suicide-attempt) and underwritten (she practically disappears in the last third of the film). The rest of Le Divorce's cast includes some very good actors like Glenn Close, Sam Waterston, Stockard Channing, Stephen Fry, Matthew Modine, and the aforementioned Leslie Caron. Other than Caron, the only one of these who is given much to do is Modine. And that turns out to be quite unfortunate since the mad betrayed-husband stalker/murderer he plays is a completely unmotivated and implausible character who bizarrely hijacks the film's final scenes for no apparent reason other than to make dramatic visual use of Le Tour Eiffel - after all, this is Paris, n'est pas?
If Le Divorce had been a low-budget ex-Sundance project with a cast of no-names, I think it might have garnered a more appreciative following. It is nothing if not quirky, and it does offer some piquant cross-cultural humor and jabs at the privileged world of the arts(y). The plot also keeps us guessing where it will turn next, but one does have to wonder whether the director wasn't equally in the dark about that.
I think this could have been an interesting film. Instead, it shows the French as being close-minded, rude and arrogant with no concern about other people's feelings. The American sisters are annoying in their lack of backbone. Instead of standing up for themselves or each other, they simply lie down and let husbands, boyfriends and in-laws humiliate them. Their last name should be doormat. The scenery is both beautiful and breathtaking. The restaurant scenes gives us some insight on the French artfulness of food. Dining is not just a daily routine but an adventure of taste, color and texture. Even when insulting, the French language is a pleasure to hear. Sadly, the bad heavily outweighs the good in this movie.
I keep trying to figure out why this movie is rated so low. I thought
it was very good, and that was before I started reading the book --
well more than halfway through, I think it's a faithful adaptation that
delivers the storyline and the theme of the novel very well. I tend now
to read the novel a movie is based on after I've seen the film, since
my experience has taught me that doing the reverse always leads to
disappointment in the movie. This was not an error with this title. I
think all the casting, all the acting, and especially the direction,
were well done.
It seems to me that somehow viewers were expecting too much from the movie. My philosophy is that expectations are arranged disappointments, and I try not to expect anything going in. I do admit that I had some doubts when it seemed that Merchant-Ivory were doing what looked like a light comedy, but there is much more to the book and film than that, first of all, and secondly, why should accomplished filmmakers not move around the genres? Look at Kubrick and The Archers, just to name two, who did so and did it successfully. I wonder how many people went in expecting "Howards End" and thus were disappointed, not in the film but by their own expectations. It's not fair to the filmmakers. Expecting "Le Divorce" to be on par with "Howards End" was like expecting "Howards End" to have the same effect as "Shakespeare Wallah" -- two completely different experiences. It's entirely possible, in fact, that Merchant-Ivory might not have done as good a job on "Le Divorce" had they not made "Howards End" first. It's a matter of process. My point being, that each film must be judged on its own merits.
I've read a couple of comments and message board posts that complain about how the movie makes French people look -- arrogant, garrulous, etc. I think that's overstating a generalization. The movie makes THESE PARTICULAR French people look arrogant and garrulous, because they are -- and devious and self-centered and boorish. But to leap to the conclusion that the movie is making a statement about all French people is patently ridiculous. "The views expressed by the characters in this movie are entirely their own".
On the other hand, one has to remember that Diane Johnson, who wrote the book and a number of books about the culture since, spends half her time in France. She does't take her subjects lightly; she's an intelligent, thoughtful, and though-provoking writer, and I would urge the people who find the movie too subjective to go to its source and read the book. They will find that the book is written from the point of view of one person, and is about the relations between two families -- not two complete cultures. Just because people say something about a culture does't make it true. Perception itself is subjective. In the book (I can't recall if this occurs in the film, I'll have to see it again) Uncle Edgar, perhaps the most sensible character, himself speaks those words that send a shiver of annoyance up my spine: "You Americans. You think..." As if we all think the same thing (and we all know THAT isn't true!). It shows that subjectivity is a common human trait, that we look at the world with our own particular set of blinders, filter our thought through our cultural stance, although I think that perhaps French thought is more synthesized and common than American thought which is, by nature of the population, more diverse.
In the end I think that the book and the film are VERY objective, and let us look at our own judgmental selves and see how the judgmental and subjective nature of our thought and attitude can be damaging and inhibiting. I think that's the theme, and it comes across very well.
Romantic dramas and comedies are not usually my thing, although I admit
they can be interesting. Despite myself, I found I liked The Bridges of
Madison County (1995), for example. So also with this one: a nice
mixture of irony, wry humour, and culture clash (American vs French)
all topped off with some murder and financial skullduggery.
There's a large cast of characters, but I'll confine most of my comments to the four main players: Kate Hudson as Isabel Walker, Naomi Watts as her sister, Roxeanne, married to Charles-Henri played by Melvil Poupaud and Isabel's aging lover, Edgar Cosset, played with exquisite panache by Theirry Lhermitte.
The story begins as Charles-Henri is leaving Roxeanne (and his daughter) for another woman, Magda (Rona Hartner), just as Isabel is arriving, from USA, to assist Roxeanne. Essentially, Charles-Henri wants a divorce, but Roxeanne refuses. And for much of the resulting interaction between the couple, that impasse remains. In the meantime, Isabel settles in with Roxeanne and, through the family connections meets Edgar (who is Charles-Henri's uncle) and agrees to become his lover.
The divorce battle gets worse as Roxeanne discovers the inequalities that exist in French law regarding marriage settlements. Relationships sour even more between the two, and now compounded by the growing dispute about a La Tour painting owned by Roxeanne's family but which Charles-Henri now half-claims as part of any divorce settlement. Further drama ensues when Tellman (Mathew Modine) shows up, ranting to Roxeanne about Charles-Henri's seduction of Magda, Tellman's wife.
And, in and out of that mess, Isabel becomes more involved with Edgar, much to the annoyance of Edgar's family but, trust the French to be very civilized about Edgar's affairs and the arrival of Roxeanne's parents and brother (Sam Waterston, Stockard Channing and Thomas Lennon, respectively) who have come to support Roxeanne during her difficult time and, just quietly, to help torpedo Charles-Henri's grab for the La Tour art piece, now valued at multi-millions.
The resolution of all these affairs is competently contrived with many scene changes as the plot interweaves between the two couples, one seeking divorce, the other eventually seeking a divorce of a different kind: as Edgar says to Isabel, finally: "I'm too old for you." And, through the latter half of the story, the American and French families intermingle, giving rise to some delicious moments of that humour and irony already mentioned.
The denouement is predictable, but still enjoyable, and marred only by Mathew Modine's somewhat overacted deranged husband; still, his intervention is instrumental and provides the only real suspenseful moments in an otherwise conventional divorce story. The use of Glenn Close, playing Olivia Pace, as a quasi-mentor for Isabel assists with the story development with Edgar and adds some further touches of irony; however, it added little to the story, as a whole.
As you might expect from an Ivory production, the cinematography, editing, and sound are top notch. And the script, although also somewhat predictable, still shows some moments of brilliance; the lunches and dinners with both families in situ were, for me, a real joy to savour. The acting, apart from Modine, is uniformly very good to excellent. This was the first time I'd seen Kate Hudson on the screen and I think she did well opposite Lhermitte. Watts is always worth watching, as are Channing and Close. And, I was very pleasantly surprised to see Leslie Caron once again, as Edgar's mother.
However, with a lot of sub-titles, some people will be turned off from an otherwise English-speaking film, despite the French actors often lapsing into that language. Being a bit of a Francophile, however, I just found it all quite delightful.
There are some mild and brief sex scenes, and nothing offensive, even for adolescents. It's not a film, however, for those who like action/thrillers.
There are a lot of comments here about people not liking this movie. I just saw it and I loved it. I think it's very subtle, though. It's more fun to watch if you have a prior understanding of, or at least introduction to, the French lifestyle. It's a great satire on both the French and American cultures and their nuanced differences. Naomi Watts was great in her role, and Kate Hudson was pretty good as well. I have to say I liked Leslie Caron as the French "mere" best though :) All said, I thought this was a wonderfully directed and somewhat quaint satire-comedy- drama. Another good work from Merchant and Ivory!
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