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A union stuck in reverse in '5x2'

Francois Ozon sets up the film like a mystery about what happened to a couple's love.

June 17, 2005|Carina Chocano | Times Staff Writer

The numbers in Francois Ozon's conjugal diagram, "5x2," refer to five pivotal moments in the doomed relationship of a couple, recounted in reverse chronological order. Marion (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) and Gilles (Stephane Freiss) sit in a lawyer's office calmly listening to the terms of their divorce, then repair to a hotel room for one final bout of bad sex. Marion comes out of the bathroom wrapped in a sheet, then quickly regrets having agreed to come at all. When she asks him to stop, Gilles forces himself on her, then lamely asks if they should give their marriage another shot. A cold, pinch-faced specimen of Gallic froideur, Gilles hardly makes a convincing case. Marion shuts the door without answering and shuffles down the hallway alone.

Set up like a divorce mystery, in which what happened to their love will be eventually revealed, "5x2" jumps from here to a slightly warmer domestic scene. Gilles is feeding their child when Marion comes in the door, freshly harried from work. She quickly changes into a stunning black dress to entertain Gilles' gay brother and his much younger lover, who spends the evening cheerfully goosing the idea of heterosexual monogamy, prompting a distasteful public confession from Gilles. Gilles' reaction to his brother's boyfriend, who later heads on to a party by himself, is one of angry disapproval. Ozon more than hints at a curdling envy of the young player on Gilles' part.

Bruni-Tedeschi is a lovely actress, and whatever emotion is evident onscreen comes courtesy of her. But she's not called upon to do much more than suffer Gilles' toxic personality and the constant warring of her unhappily married parents. It would be different if Ozon had liked his couple well enough to show us their love for each other, then evince some sadness at the prospect of their parting. But he instead seems bent on systematically puncturing what otherwise might have been the marriage's Hallmark moments. When Marion calls Gilles at work to tell him she's gone into labor prematurely, he tells his secretary to hold his calls and goes out for a long lunch. Gilles and Marion giggle all the way to their hotel room on their wedding night, but the minute Gilles hits the bed, he promptly passes out drunk. Marion strips off her wedding gown, puts on a pair of jeans and a sweater and heads down to the river for some quiet contemplation and an anonymous al fresco hook-up with a rudely aggressive American.

Ah, l'amour heterosexuel.

It's moments like these that make "5x2" seem less like scenes from a marriage than highlights from a gay man's fevered nightmare of what it would be like to be a straight married couple. (In a French DVD version, called "2x5," Ozon has reversed the order of the episodes to tell the story in chronological order, which I would imagine would make this particular narrative feel less like watching a story unfold than witnessing a prisoner trudge to the gallows.) If you're wondering how how these two ever made it to their wedding night in the first place, the answer is revealed in the final moments of the film, when Gilles and Marion meet on vacation in Italy and tentatively fall into friendship.

Whatever it is that transpires between them, it happens in the water, far from the camera and microphones.

*

'5x2'

MPAA rating: R for language, strong graphic sexuality and some drug content.

Times guidelines: Explicit sex scenes and talk.

Released by ThinkFilm. Director Francois Ozon. Producer Fidelite, Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonier. Screenplay by Francois Ozon with Emmanuele Bernheim. Director of photography Yorick Le Saux. Editor Monica Coleman. Running time: 90 minutes.

In selected theaters.

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