Le Divorce Review
Isabel (Kate Hudson) arrives in Paris to stay with her pregnant step-sister and poet, Roxy (Naomi Watts), just as her French husband Charles-Henri (Melvil Poupaud) has walked out on her, seeking a divorce. The lawyers discuss the division of property, including controversially a painting and family heirloom which Roxy brought to Paris with her, which could potentially be a rare Le Tour. Isabel meanwhile makes the most of her visit, enjoying the attentions of French men, becoming the mistress of a charming older man, Edgar (Thierry Lhermitte), a right-wing politician who just happens to be the brother of Roxy’s mother-in-law. Events precipitate the meeting of the two very different families.
Le Divorce shows a rather more understanding side of Americans abroad than the recent Lost in Translation, although perhaps that is not such a realistic point of view. Kate Hudson’s character attempts, and makes a reasonable effort, to speak French to the first person she meets rather than shout loudly at them in English. By the same token, assistants in expensive French fashion houses are actually helpful and French Immigration officials actually are pleasant and smile. Are we expected to believe this?
I’m kidding, of course – well, half kidding. It is actually quite refreshing to see a more mature and rounded examination of the difference between cultures without trivialising and without being too serious either. Despite their attempts to get on and relate to one another there are inevitably differences that define people of different upbringings and cultures – a young lady carrying a red Hermès ‘Kelly’ handbag will mean one thing to an American tourist and something completely different to a French person. Rather than take the easy option of playing up misunderstandings between the Americans and French for laughs (or worse, as in the case of Lost in Translation, to make the main characters look superior and more sympathetic), Le Divorce plays instead upon the different cultural attitudes towards love, relationships, marriage and, of course, divorce. The film is not above falling back on cultural stereotypes, often in the form of the views gained from television, as when a French policewoman expresses scepticism over an American committing a crime passionnel - "There are no crimes of passion in America, they all kill for money or drugs".
I realise I’m probably very much in the minority here, but I quite enjoyed parts of Le Divorce. It has a terrific cast from both American and French contingents who all perform pretty well, although with the sheer number of characters, they can't help but be mostly underused. It’s light and breezy, gently funny and never takes itself too seriously. If anything though it’s a little too breezy and despite the attempts at enlivening a story that is slowly running out of steam with some rather silly and conventional plot contrivances, the story ticks along just a little too mechanically, coming across as rather too souless to properly engage the viewer’s interest in these characters or their predicaments and justify its two-hour running time.
The USA Region 1 release of Le Divorce is a flipper, containing a anamorphic 2.40:1 transfer of the film on one single-layer side and a pointless waste of space on the other – a 4:3 pan and scan version of the film that cuts out vast quantities of the scope picture. The Region 1 release is barebones – the film and nothing else. The Region 2 release, which has been reviewed here on DVDTimes by Bex, is similarly extra-featureless.
The picture quality is reasonably good. The image is not razor sharp by any means – it’s actually a little on the soft side, there are faint hints of grain and the odd dust-spot here and there, but none of that really matters. It feels like a real film print that hasn’t been overly treated or edge-enhanced into digital perfection. It’s a pleasant transfer, perfectly suited to the film and complementary to Pierre Lhomme’s photography. There are a few blocky compression artefacts in backgrounds in some low-lit scenes, but overall, it’s a fine transfer.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is pretty unexceptional. It’s centre based with the occasional use of surrounds for ambience and music. It’s neither terribly clear nor well mixed, but this is not the kind of film where you are going to notice sound effects, so it’s quite adequate.
Unless you count a pan and scan version of the film (and I’m sure not many would), there are no extra features on the Region 1 release.
Even for Merchant-Ivory, Le Divorce is a fairly safe and inoffensive film. High production values and great cast, but no great substance behind it and even on the potentially thorny subject of cultural differences between the United States and France, there is nothing here that is the least bit likely to offend anyone. Whether it will entertain or amuse is another matter, but it might be worth renting to find out. The DVD is pretty basic, with no extra features. I’ve no problems with this – if you just want to see the film (as I increasingly do with DVD releases myself), this is a good quality release.