July 08, 2005

5x2 (Cinq fois deux)

Directed by François Ozon Starring Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi and Stéphane Freiss

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

François Ozon has established a reputation by essentially making films as stunts, irrationally blending genres and machinating twists for pure shock value. His juvenile exercises in perversion have certainly won over many critics and fans, and the commercial success of Swimming Pool and 8 Women have further legitimized his shtick. The writer/director's latest project 5x2 (Cinq fois deux) is yet another effort calculated to impress and disturb. It examines a couple's relationship from the bitter end all the way to the blissful beginning in successive flashbacks.

Unfortunately, this time his truc du jour isn't something novel. Intentional or not, the film is like a brazen rip-off of Harold Pinter's 1978 play Betrayal - brought to the big screen in 1983 under the direction of David Hugh Jones - as they share virtually identical narrative structure and thematic concern. The reverse chronology proves to be a useful device when it comes to masking an underdeveloped story, and the gimmick has certainly garnered Christopher Nolan's Memento and Gaspar Noé's Irreversible more attention than they probably warrant. After seeing 5x2, one can't help but wonder if Closer might have been better off had Mike Nichols edited it backwards.

Although a more subdued style signals his maturity, Ozon still can't resist an inclination to sensationalize the material. During the opening sequence, newly divorced Marion (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) and Gilles (Stéphane Freiss) check into a hotel for breakup sex which then quickly turns into rape. It's difficult to recover from the shock of such nastiness right off the bat, so the rest of the film's five chapters just devolve progressively. The only other plot element that comes remotely close to that dramatic intensity takes place immediately in the second segment, with Gilles responding to the forthright open partnership between his brother Christophe (Antoine Chappey) and trophy boy-toy Mathieu (Marc Ruchmann) by disclosing his own participation in an orgy which Marion also witnessed.

Unlike the more explicit and exploitative Noé, Ozon here exercises some self-discipline by not staging the orgy as an actual scene. But considering how uneventful and anticlimactic the film turns out to be, he probably should have included that gratuitous scene as it is supposedly the turning point of the central relationship. Much of the film seems like an afterthought conjured up for the unconventional narrative device, because many parts don't add up – Gilles's rape and Marion's betrayal being just two examples. With these soulless and thoroughly despicable protagonists as well as the coolly detached storytelling, 5x2 makes one wonder whether Ozon has contempt for relationships in general or for humanity at large. The eclectic Italian oldies soundtrack for this French film emerges as its most memorable aspect, and Paolo Conte's "Sparring Partner" – which plays during the end credits – is significantly more haunting than the film itself.

Reprinted form WestEnder. © Copyright 2005 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.