Audrey Tautou has come a long way since her touching, doe-eyed international debut in Amelie. The actress is typecast in such feisty, cutesy roles that it’s hard to determine whether she’s good or just a natural charmer – a bit of both perhaps. In debut directors David Foenkinos and Stéphane Foenkinos’ new romance, Delicacy, we find a more determined Tautou at play – who still commands the screen in a delightfully challenging role about life, love and death.
Nathalie (Tautou) is a beautiful, happy and successful Parisian business executive who finds herself suddenly widowed after a three-year marriage to her soul mate. Struggling to cope with her loss, she buries herself and her emotions in her work to the dismay of her friends, family and co-workers.
After being pursued by her boss (Bruno Todeschini), Nathalie finds love and a rekindled zest for life in an unlikely source, her seemingly unexceptional, gauche, and average looking office subordinate, sensitive Swede Markus (comic star François Damiens). They face obstacles to their growing affections but also self-doubts.
Delicacy has an oddly melancholic feel to it throughout, but is sprinkled with hope, and coupled with tender awkwardness that sets the scene for the bizarre pairing of Nathalie and Markus to develop. There is a wonderful defiance to this that is beautifully nuanced, but still resorts to the classic ‘beauty and the beast’ scenario of opposites attracting, set in a detached office environment for some sort of quirky effect.
Admittedly, we are so captivated by Tautou – and her ever shrinking frame and chic style – that it’s easy to overlook how incredulous their union actually is, all stemming from a compromising office kiss. In fact, these moments of apparent fairy tale have you guessing initially as to what is imagined and what is real, adding a further touch of Tautou magic that is irresistible. There is even an enigma as to Markus’s being; is he a figment of grieving Nathalie’s imagination to help her cope, like a defence mechanism that is a somewhat intriguing mystery to decipher.
In addition, Tautou has such a spirited, old school screen femininity that swings between austere and verging on judgemental one minute to enchantingly naïve the next as the situation presents itself. Damiens compliments this nicely, like some gentle giant and protector beside her, reflecting the awe that we all feel when exposed to her beguiling presence. As an unlikely pair from the start, the plot is all in favour of keeping them and their activities as believable as possible that it’s hard not to champion their cause.
Delicacy is another Tautou charm offensive for fans that sees the star in a testier role of emotions and reactions. And the alluring French stubbornness is predictable but always a sure hit. Whether the subject matter is kept too light and kookily frothy by the filmmakers is another thing, with its whimsical daydream sequences that have you longing for hazy, continental summer evenings ahead. Perhaps the film could have been bolder and more challenging with the subjects of a deep love lost and survival mechanisms kicking in. Still, with Tautou at the helm, there is never likely to be too many morose scenarios to endure as her perceptive and impish disposition always finds a way to shine through.
By Lisa Giles-Keddie