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Le Divorce

Starring Kate Hudson and Naomi Watts
Screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and James Ivory
Based on the novel by Diane Johnson
Directed by James Ivory

IN SHORT: le tedious, unfocussed mess. [Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements and sexual content. 115 minutes]

In the ten years we've been running this site we've learned that, with great regularity, come the films that attempt to adapt complicated novels. They're usually romances and they're always filled with more characters than you could shake a stick at and, without fail, they fail because the adaptations strive too hard to include every element of the source material in the finished script. This season's mess comes from the Merchant Ivory company, whose other films at least have extremely exotic settings to offset any weakness in a script. Le Divorce, which sets two California blondes in the middle of Paris, could be about two Americans with foreign love interests set anywhere in the world, until a finale on the Eiffel Tower locks down the setting. It is a story told with so much emphasis on minor characters and their subplots that the overall point of the tale is lost. At least on us.

Again, you shouldn't have to read the book to follow the film. As best we can tell, it goes like this:

Californian Isabel Walker (Kate Hudson) journeys to the City of Lights to visit pregnant sister Roxanne (Naomi Watts), all alone since her husband Charles-Henri de Persand (Melvil Poupaud) up and dumped her in favor of a more exotic Russian femme, Magda (Rona Hartner). Taking no hint from her sister's misfortune, Isabel falls for married French diplomat Edgar Cosset (Thierry Lhermitte), uncle to that scoundrel Charles-Henri. Magda's husband Tellman (Matthew Modine) is a raving lunatic of seemingly American origin who, for reasons initially unknown to us, seems to be stalking Roxanne. Revealing why spills the Third Act "surprise", so we won't.

Even better, when time comes to divvy up Roxanne's marital estate, it seems that our fair lady has a painting that may be the authentic creation of a French artist named La Tour and worth millions of dollars. That's news to Roxanne's family, including the parents (Sam Waterston and Stockard Channing) who gifted the painting to their kid. The ex-husband, of course, smells the fresh scent of millions of newly minted euros and wants his piece in the divorce settlement. The cad. An expert from Christie's Auction House (Stephen Fry) and art curator Julia Manchevering (Bebe Neuwirth) weigh in with their opinions, as do the experts at the Louvre. Isabel takes a job with expatriate American writer Olivia Pace (Glenn Close), and manages an on and off again fling with a Pace's house painter, Yves (Romain Duris). Finishing this merry go round of characters is Charles-Henri's mother Suzanne (Leslie Caron) who explains French men and their ways to all Americans who will listen.

We can only guess that the point is another "country cousin" type of story, in which Isabel is the outsider who discovers the casual world of the upper class French. A world of $900 lunches and $18,000 Hermes purses made of crocodile leather -- Edgar is fond of giving these at the beginning of each of his affairs. He ends with a Hermes scarf, and one of the few amusements in the film is the number of female conquests that run in the particular circle of acquaintances that we see. The script is so busy with so many bits of nothing -- heavy emphasis on the basics of scarf selection and the presentation of gourmet food -- that nothing remains of interest.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Le Divorce, he would have paid . . .


wait and rent at the cheapest time of the week. Le Divorce is le disappointment.

amazon com link Click to buy films by James Ivory
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