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Le Divorce (2003)

Le Divorce poster.jpg

The house of Merchant Ivory had a huge impact on me as a kid – I was desperately impressed with Shakespeare Wallah, Bombay Talkie and Heat and Dust. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s screenplays and the settings were elemental. Here she and James Ivory adapt a novel by Diane Johnson, not a woman entirely unfamiliar with the monde du film herself – she did a little screenplay for a certain Monsieur Kubrick called The Shining. So far so unbelievably fabuleux. But her novels about transAtlantic manners Le Divorce and Le Mariage are modern Jamesian comedies which teach us a lot about what goes in France. It’s beautifully handled with a colour palette and a throughline of etiquette that sustains a millefeuille-light story. Unemployed Californian graduate Isabel (Kate Hudson) visits pregnant half-sister Roxanne (Naomi Watts) in Paris just as the latter’s husband walks out on her – literally. Isabel starts working for a writer, apparently a Johnson avatar (Glenn Close) and having an affair with her ex, who also happens to be Roxanne’s uncle by marriage, and a famous politico to boot, played by Thierry l’Hermitte, a one-time heart throb in France. We have digressions on handbags, scarves, sugar, cheese, hunting, greetings, mistresses … and all the time Isabel is making herself over so that she finally resembles the old painting hanging on the apartment wall and which is the subject of a legal and artistic wrangle. When Stockard Channing and Sam Waterston turn up as the girls’ parents, you know you’re in excellent company. There is a brilliantly chosen, unobtrusive score with a variety of artists whom you may or may not know. This is stylish, subtle and sophisticated. Bon appetit!

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About elainelennon

An occasional movie-watching diary.

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