MILL VALLEY, Calif. -- Georges Feydeau may be the most frequently performed playwright in France, but "The Art of Breaking Up", a film based on his first successful farce, "Fly in the Ointment" (1890), doesn't do justice to the form or to his work. Adapted by Rosalinde Deville
and directed by her husband, Michel Deville
, the play gets lost in translation to the screen.
Despite the presence of the ravishing Emmanuelle Beart and the usually meticulous Charles Berling
as well as burlesque shtick and wild camera moves, "Art" remains stagebound and predictable. Lacking any variation in dynamics, the film hits a piercing note and sings it for the duration. Few of Deville's works have traveled well -- or often -- outside his native France, and this, which is reportedly his swan song, will probably be no exception. With its narrow appeal and mannered subject matter, Deville's last project, capping a 45-year career, is unlikely to find an audience outside of festival slots.
In a series of wacky, loosely knit vignettes, Beart camps it up as Lucette, a beautiful, lusty chanteuse who in the first scene is found weeping copious tears as Charles Gounod
's hyperdramatic score from "Faust" blasts on the soundtrack. (Beart's luscious physicality is the main reason, perhaps the only reason, to see this film.) It is Lucette's misfortune to be in love with a cad, Edouard de Bois-d'Enghien (Berling), who desires her but, unbeknownst to Lucette, has pledged to marry another woman for money. Edouard's future mother-in-law, Madame Duverger (Dominique Blanc
), puts the moves on him, too. Pandemonium, sexual calisthenics and overacting ensue.
Madeline Fontaine's sumptuous and colorful period costumes, especially for Beart, complement Thierry Leproust
's production design, which evokes vaudeville, 19th-century drawing room formality and elegant country living.
Characteristically a restrained actor, Berling sacrifices his dignity and vamps his way through the proceedings. He's not alone. Yes, it's farce, but the film is too zany for its own good: The nonstop gags and episodes of energetic fornication soon grow tiresome. A more apt film title might have been: "Subtlety takes a vacation".