Recent years have seen François Ozon gain prestige and demonstrate himself to be a versatile as well as a capable director, moving from the shock impact of early independent films like Sitcom to the popular yet subversive glamour and murder mysteries of 8 Women and Swimming Pool. With 5x2 Ozon returns to the emotional turmoil and understated tones of Under The Sand, capturing the key moments of a failing marriage in five scenes – the meeting, the wedding, the pregnancy, the break-up and the divorce. By carefully choosing which moments to show and presenting them in reverse order, the director manages to turn what is otherwise a harsh appraisal of male/female relationships into something more thoughtful and poignant.
In the very first scene of the film we see the culmination of Marion and Gilles Ferron’s marriage – they are sitting together in a lawyer’s office finalising their divorce. Each of the subsequent four scenes that follow in the film in reverse order, leading up to their meeting, consequently takes on a different tone when we know what will be the eventual outcome. And although there are obviously revelations that occur in each of the scenes that slot everything into place, they are more or less outlined completely in the first 15 minute sequence of the film. This entire sequence – the finalisation of their divorce in their lawyer’s office and a subsequent visit to a hotel to make love for the last time, is so tightly scripted and meticulously performed that it tells you everything about Marion and Gilles relationship, the roles each of them played in their marriage, the bonds that held them together and everything that broke them apart. It also carries a sense of verbal and physical violence of the kind of brutality in a relationship that only the latter films of Ingmar Bergman could equal.
Each of the subsequent four sequences is handled with the same precision, containing within it a perfectly compressed summation of that period of the couple’s life, yet finding a way to express it as naturalistically as possible. The second sequence, showing a couple in crisis is another scene of incredible power and accuracy. Rather than focus on a major argument or violent melodramatic scene that shatters the relationship, it focuses on the one thing that is holding them together – their child Nicholas, whose appearance frames the entire sequence, placing the in-between conversations and events into context. The entire scene takes place in one evening over a dinner party Gilles and Marion are having, to which they have invited Gilles brother Christophe and his new boyfriend Matthieu who is much younger than he is. Within 5 minutes of dinner-party conversation about fidelity and about lesbian friends who are having a surrogate baby, the script reveals the cracks in Marion and Gilles and traditional relationships without explicitly stating them. Beyond this, much of the scene is expressed in glances, in gestures, in posture and in tone of voice, played out to music and dancing. The setting, the revelations and everything about their relationship – the good and the bad – is expressed with perfect naturalism in a single simple scene, which takes on additional force when you know, having seen the previous/subsequent scene of their divorce, the direction in which the relationship is going.
Without going through all of the scenes in the film, the same story is played out in each of them - through Marion’s pregnancy and the birth of their son, through the wedding night and through to the scene of their meeting and falling in love. Each sequence is similarly comprehensive, picking a key moment in their relationship, keeping dialogue and exposition to an absolute minimum, using parallel relationships where possible – such as in the scenes between Marion’s mother and father, wonderfully played with bickering bitterness by Françoise Fabian and Michael Lonsdale – to both reflect and contrast on Gilles and Marion’s relationship. The film is in this way meticulously scripted and controlled. Each scene is perfect within itself, not only encapsulating and summarising a particular period and emotion, but allowing it to resonate with echoing similarities to other sequences. The wedding vows at the end obviously take on a different tone when we have already heard the divorce reading at the beginning of the film, but the film also displays much more subtle references in its mirrored structure. At the centre, is the mysterious pivotal scene of the film and the relationship – the birth of Marion and Gilles’ child. Framing that are two scenes of parties - the joy and idealism of the blossoming relationship at the wedding party which contains a dark seed of destruction, is contrasted with more subdued occasion of the earlier dinner party which contains the last remnant of joy in a failing relationship. Bookending it all are two powerful, contrasting lovemaking/rape scenes. This deliberate framing gives the impression of the film being overly controlled, contrived, scripted and structured, but with a marriage relationship reduced down to five scenes, there is much that is left unexplained and unstated, leaving the viewer to fill-in the gaps. The naturalism in the performances and beautiful expressiveness of their looks and gestures give you all the additional information you need to try and figure out their motivations and back-stories, giving the film a perfect balance between structure and content.
Pathé’s UK Region 2 release of 5x2 is typically a considerably cut-down version of their French edition. Released as a 2-disc set, the French release in addition to the trailer, deleted scenes, photo gallery and making of included here, also contains an audio commentary, a 12-minute feature on the film’s presentation at Venice, over one hour of interviews with the cast, screentests, and a poster campaign. It also contains a DTS soundtrack and ‘2x5’, a re-edited version of the complete film played in sequential order. None of the extra features on the French edition unfortunately contains English subtitles.
The picture quality on the UK DVD is reasonably good, but far from exceptional. The picture is quite grainy, perhaps more than it ought to be, with artefact blocking sometimes visible in backgrounds. Colours nevertheless are reasonably good and there is detail and sharpness in the image, with close-ups looking particularly impressive. Blacks however are deep and flat with no detail. On a regular sized screen this looks fine, but other minor flaws became more apparent on my computer monitor, particularly the level of grain, artefacting, edge enhancement and blue-edge colour-bleed - see screencapture below.
Although the film doesn’t come with the DTS track that was included on the French edition, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is more than adequate, capturing the warmth of tone of each scene and the music score. It’s transferred at a fairly low volume, and needs additional amplification, but all the detail seems to be there. The soundstage is very much centre/front based, but it sparks into life when required, such as in the party scenes and holiday resort disco scenes.
English subtitles are the typical large, fixed subtitles that appear on all Pathé UK releases. They are clear and readable and translate the film well, but are too large and intrusive and there is really no valid excuse for them not being removable.
Making of 5x2 (16:34)
The making of shows one of the sequences in the film being shot – the wedding party. Unfortunately most of the scenes shown here did not make the final cut. This featurette is completely unnecessary and uninteresting.
Deleted Scenes (17:07)
Six deleted scenes are presented. None of them take place outside of the main five sequences, other than possibly the ‘Prologue’ which leads into the lawyer’s office scene at the start of the film and none of them add anything new to the film, although one or two fill in a few gaps that could otherwise mainly be assumed. All of them are shown in the context of where they would have appeared in the final film.
Photo Gallery (4:06)
Presented as a slideshow, the images are pointlessly frosted almost into oblivion.
Theatrical Trailer (1:49)
An excellent trailer, this gives nothing away but the mood and tone of the film.
The backward storytelling or cut-up technique has been used in a number of films over recent years - from Memento and Irreversible to 21 Grams - to achieve a specific effect or impression that could not be achieved in a standard linear storyline. But rather than use it to convey a sense of shock, confusion and tension that leads to a surprise revelation, Ozon achieves something quite different in 5x2, forcing the viewer, rather like the Lucas Belvaux Trilogy – One, Two Three, to look at its characters from a number of angles and re-evaluate initial impressions. At the same time it doesn’t pretend to offer you the full story or allow one interpretation to dominate, but rather tells us that where human emotions and relationships are concerned, there is no way of knowing the full story. And as French cinema constantly shows us, from Nous Ne Viellirons Pas Ensemble and La Séparation to Vendredi Soir and Feux Rouges, it remains a fascinating subject that can be studied and dramatised in countless ways. Pathé’s UK DVD release typically reaches the same bare minimum required for an above average presentation, and is certainly lacking in comparison to the French release, but there is no problem in working out the scoring for 5x2 as a film - it’s a question of basic mathematics.