Le Divorce Review

The Film

Le Divorce is a Merchant-Ivory production, based on the book by Diane Johnson (she has also written novels called Le Mariage and L'Affaire). I haven't read the novel so I can't comment on how good this particular adaptation is, but I was drawn to watch the film by the stellar cast assembled and by the Merchant-Ivory namecheck. All the ingredients seem present for a good, solid romantic comedy about the clash between American and French culture where affairs of the heart are concerned. Unfortunately the film fails to deliver on many of its promises; there are so many pieces to the story that it ends up a bit of a mess, despite good, solid performances from the cast.

Naomi Watts stars as Roxeanne de Persand, pregnant American wife of the French Charles-Henrie (Melvil Poupaud). She's living in Paris with husband and daughter Gennie, trying to eke out an existence as a poet. The day her half-sister Isabel Walker (Kate Hudson) arrives to help out in the time before the birth, Charles-Henri leaves his wife. This sets in motion 'le divorce', as Charles-Henri wants one so he can marry his new love, Magda. Roxeanne doesn't want – and in fact actively resists – this notion of the two of them getting divorced, and against this backdrop we learn some French law concerning divorces and marital separation. Isabel, meanwhile, manages to land a job assisting writer Olivia Pace (Glenn Close), which gives her a reason to stick around in Paris some more. She also becomes transfixed by Charles-Henri's uncle Edgar (Thierry Lhermitte) – whom she originally met at a family dinner – and subsequently becomes his mistress. Not a lot of 'helping out pregnant sister' going on, but hey – she's young and enjoying herself.

Magda's husband (Matthew Modine) feels extremely wronged by his wife's affair and starts to stalk Roxeanne in an effort to talk to her about the situation; all of her friends manage to keep Roxeanne away from him, however. Suzanne de Persand (Leslie Caron), mother to the love-rat Charles-Henri, keeps in touch with Roxeanne, apparently endeavouring to stay on good terms... although her daughter-in-law suspects she's far more interested in whether the new child will be a son (and thus heir for the de Persand family) than about her own wellbeing. Suzanne also discovers Isabel's affair and meddles in that too. On the other side of the Atlantic, the Walkers (Stockard Channing and Sam Waterson) are concerned for their two daughters and eventually make the trip over to France where both families meet and the cultural divide is explored some more. There's also a continuing sub-plot concerning a painting (a Walker family heirloom) which Roxeanne brought to Paris with her and which Charles-Henri is interested in claiming in the division of 'their' property.

Get the point? It's a bit of a messy plotline which no doubt is more fully explored in the original novel. But in the film, well, everything seems to happen very quickly and there's no real sense of time passing aside from Roxeanne's growing pregnancy. Coincidences feel somewhat contrived and the ending… well, extremely contrived. I have no quibbles with the acting though and thought the fine cast all do their best; there are some really good performances in this film and the ensemble work together well to provide believable characters, albeit in an unbelievable story. It's also a treat to see French actors in this film, rather than people attempting the French accent, and there's also quite a bit of French spoken from time-to-time which all gives the real French touch.


The film is presented in 16:9 widescreen anamorphic format. From the highly colourful credits onwards the transfer is a treat – there aren't any noticeable glitches and the shades and tones work very well together, both dark and light colours achieve a balance. As you might expect from a recent film, there is no real problem with the picture quality on this DVD.


The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, but unfortunately you wouldn't know it from listening to the film on even the best surround speaker system. Basically, we're looking at a front-loaded, fairly centre-channel soundtrack that throws very little to the rear speakers. It is noticeable too, there are a couple of scenes where background music seeps into the foreground and I was left reaching for the control to turn up the sound to hear dialogue. Thankfully this doesn't happen very often at all, but when it does, it's just annoying! One of the nicer features of this DVD is that you can choose English subtitles for Hard of Hearing or just 'English subtitles' – the latter only subtitles spoken French parts of the film; so be warned if you wanted subtitles throughout then you must choose the former option.


The only 'extras' on this disc are the subtitles (Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish in addition to the English ones mentioned above) and scene access. It's a bare bones disc for a fairly bog-standard production.


On paper (and certainly in the trailer) this film promises to be a fun look at the cultural differences between Americans and the French, with a stellar cast and the Merchant-Ivory pedigree to back it all up. In actuality, however, I found the film to be a bit of a muddle, unsure of its own identity, despite the lovely background of Paris and some good, solid performances. The DVD presents the film well, but there aren't any extras to speak of, so it's really a case of whether you like the film or not. I remained unconvinced by it.

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