Nathalie... (France, 2003)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Anne Fontaine's Nathalie... has taken 2 1/2 years to attain U.S. distribution, and even that will be just a limited peek in select art house venues before a quick turnaround onto DVD. (A medium in which it has been available in France since 2004.) That Nathalie... has received any interest is due in large part to the star power of three of France's biggest names: Gerard Depardieu, Fanny Ardant, and Emmanuelle Beart. The film is exactly what audiences have come to expect from French cinema (and what the generic sterotype predicts): a talky affair where dialogue and character development replace plot and action, with a little tasty nudity thrown in for good measure.

So what keeps the movie from being boring? Nathalie... is like lewd Eric Rohmer - that is to say that what the characters have to say is interesting. That the actors are all superb doesn't hurt (nor does the fact that Beart is easily one of the most beautiful women in the world). Certain audiences are not going to like this kind of movie, but, if you don't mind slower films with lots of intelligent, fascinating dialogue, this production will offer a satisfying two hours.

Catherine (Ardant) and Bernard (Depardieu) have an apparently happy marriage, until Ardant discovers that Bernard has been unfaithful, and begins to question the foundation of their union. In an attempt to learn things about her husband that he will not reveal to her, she hires a prostitute (Emmanuelle Beart) to pose as a college student named "Nathalie" and seduce Bernard. Thus begins an odd ménage-a-trois. Nathalie will meet Bernard for a sexual liaison, then, after they are done, she will have a drink with Catherine and provide her with a detail-rich account of the encounter.

Nathalie... doesn't show much sex. Instead, we are privy to Nathalie's graphic descriptions, which leave little to the imagination. This is an adult film in every sense of the word, and Fontaine doesn't shy away from having her characters discuss risqué matters. There's also plenty of unacknowledged sexual tension between Catherine and Nathalie. As a character study and an examination of some of the reasons why relationships fail (and why some men visit prostitutes), Nathalie... offers compelling food for thought, with a little visual stimulation thrown in on the side.

Nathalie... (France, 2003)

Director: Anne Fontaine
Cast: Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Béart, Gérard Depardieu
Screenplay: Anne Fontaine, Jacques Fieschi, Francois-Olivier Rousseau
Cinematography: Jean-Marc Fabre
Music: Michael Nyman
U.S. Distributor: Wellspring Media
Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 2006-04-14
MPAA Rating: "NR" (Sexual Situations, Nudity, Profanity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: English subtitled French
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1