5x2 directed by François Ozon, written by Ozon with Emmanuèle Bernheim, with Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Stéphane Freiss, Françoise Fabian, Géraldine Pailhas, Michael Lonsdale and Antoine Chappey. 90 minutes. A Seville Pictures release. Subtitled. Opens Friday (June 24). For venues and times, see Movies, page 107. Rating: NNN
Rewind. It's the dream of anybody who's seen love curdle and rot. Where did it go wrong? How could something so beautiful become such a sour, steaming pile?
This is where movies help, running backwards in time as easily as forwards. François Ozon's 5X2 tells the story of a marriage from divorce court to first blush, which is either a cynical view of relationships or the dispassionate eye of math.
The title is no accident. Ozon designs the film as five chapters from the life of Marion + Gilles. When we first see them, they sit listening to a lawyer read the legal details of their divorce, including the precise calculus of their son's custody.
The next scene is the one that makes the movie. Marion (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) and Gilles (Stéphane Freiss) go to a hotel room for one last slippery-slap together. But the sex is as dry as chalk, and brutish, too. It's a prickly, hard-to-watch scene, full of flashes of rage, frustration and desire. It's also the first clue to what might have driven these two apart.
Memento and Irreversible are the flashiest recent examples of backwards storytelling, though Ozon says he was inspired by Jane Campion's similarly flipped TV drama Two Friends. But the film 5X2 feels closest to the Harold Pinter adaptation Betrayal, in which Jeremy Irons and Ben Kingsley battle for Patricia Hodge. Betrayal is soaked in the acid chill of Pinter's language, and its view of human motivation is just as tart. The most lasting impression 5X2 leaves is of all the small, daily abuses couples inflict on each other.
And yet Ozon seems less interested in doing the math that explains the breakup than he is in showing how the emotional stages of a relationship have corresponding cinematic styles. The first (last) chapter of Marion and Gilles's marriage has the bleak conflict of an Ingmar Bergman film. In fact, Ozon used pages from Bergman's Scenes From A Marriage to screen-test his actors. The rest of the film progresses through gradually lightening styles until it looks and sounds like one of Eric Rohmer's summer vacation films.
Ozon (Swimming Pool, 8 Women, Under The Sand) is by now cinema's leading designer of jealousy. His films are harsh portraits of envious people. But style - particularly the elegant structures and clean compositions he's become known for - gives them a cool gloss. These are objects you want to buy.
In the end, 5X2 is minor Ozon. The film's calculated mapping overwhelms its emotion and, worse, there's no standout performance here. Ozon has depended recently on spectacular female acting - Charlotte Rampling, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert - but Bruni-Tedeschi is a much less dazzling presence. She comes across like an ordinary woman, which is not what you want in an Ozon film.