Judge Joe Armenio consulted his abacus and determined that five times two equals ten.
Smoke gets in your eyes.
French director Francois Ozon's 5x2 is a film in five scenes about the failure of a marriage, and Ozon uses the structural conceit of presenting the scenes in reverse chronological order. We see their divorce first, then a confession of infidelity, the birth of their child, their marriage, and their first meeting. At worst, this could be merely a trendy gimmick used as a hook for an unexceptional story; at best, knowledge of the romance's failure could create a poignant dramatic irony, as small failures or miscommunications which the characters barely notice assume great importance for the viewer, who knows how the story ends. This poignance is clearly what Ozon is going for; the reverse chronology also gives a sense of inevitability to the proceedings, and tempers the joy of the romantic moments. Perhaps most of all, 5x2 is a film about the gap between the illusion and reality of love: We are, Ozon is suggesting, hoodwinked by the ecstatic rush of infatuation and the promise of lifelong happiness into accepting relationships that, in the end, will cause more harm than good.
These are potent themes, but 5x2 delivers on them only intermittently. If the film intends to make a larger point about human relationships, it's important that the people involved behave in comprehensible, even typical ways, but there's much in this film that doesn't ring true, that seems excessively cynical. The husband, Gilles (Stephan Freiss, Alias Betty), is a rather relentless jerk and coward, abandoning his wife Marion (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Nenette and Boni) during the birth of their child, humiliating her in front of friends with a lurid admission, and ultimately raping her when she changes her mind about their final post-divorce tryst. The statement that Ozon intends to make about the nature of relationships begins to seem rather pinched and ungenerous when presented through the lives of a craven jackass and a woman who seems fundamentally decent but weak-willed enough (and enough in thrall to the idea of love) to put up with his shenanigans. Ozon is cynically suggesting that this sort of downright pathological marriage is typical, hence the parallel story of Marion's parents, whose relationship seems based on hatred tempered by mutual respect, with occasional moments of peace; the main difference between the older and younger generation is that the younger folks are willing to split up. There is one more relationship in the film, between Gilles' gay brother and a younger man who suggests at one point that monogamy is a silly concept. There is the possibility that Ozon might see this as a healthier relationship, but it soon becomes clear that Gilles' brother is desperately in love and will be crushed when eventually rejected (a deleted scene included as an extra makes this even clearer).
5x2 is not a revelatory psychological chamber drama in the manner of Ingmar Bergman, although at times it seems to flirt with such a style (most notably in the scene with Gilles' brother). It is also not a satire on the superficialities of the bourgeoisie a la Claude Chabrol, although several scenes also hint at this kind of approach (Gilles' job in public relations, the dry legalities of both marriage and divorce). Rather, Ozon tells the story in a detached, elliptical manner, relying on images much more heavily than dialogue, rarely granting us any glimpse of the characters' interior lives. There's no denying that the director is a master of this kind of visual storytelling; several scenes feature breathtaking transitions from darkness to light, made more moving by the knowledge that, given the backwards chronology, we are in fact moving in the other direction. For example, the birth sequence ends with Gilles alone in the dark in his car, and the fade-out takes us to a luminous shot of the couple's wedding reception. The most interesting moments capture the distance between the love that Marion has hoped for and the pain that her journey has in fact given her. At the end of the first sequence, after their terrible post-divorce meeting, Marion is framed in a long shot, walking down a long hallway, and a ravishingly sentimental love song swells on the soundtrack. After the wedding, she wanders off into the night, glancing back from the dark at the reception hall, still flooded with light, her parents dancing to The Platters' "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" and seemingly content in each other's arms. And in the film's final shot, the happy Gilles and Marion swim off into a gorgeous sunset. The film lingers in the mind more for these images and sounds than for its characters; given the unrecognizable ways in which they act, I wish the film had been even more elliptical and abstract. I also wish Ozon had found another actor to play Gilles; Stephane Freiss gives a bland, sullen performance, although he does have nice abs (I wonder why it's necessary for these characters to be so model-pretty, although this does make more noticeable the fact that they are somewhat more haggard by the chronological end of the film).
Think Film's transfer is excellent; this is a beautiful film to look at, and they've done it justice. We also get a choice between a 5.1 and 2.0 soundtrack. Both are fine, although the 2.0 actually sounded richer and fuller to me. The highlight among the extras is 16 minutes of deleted scenes, most of which are quite interesting, although they don't answer any of the big narrative questions that the released version leaves open (Such as: Did Gilles know about the strange thing that Marion does on their wedding night? Did he have some specific reason for staying away from the birth of their son?) In one of the deleted scenes, Gilles' brother makes clear just how deluded he is about his new relationship, and Gilles himself says that he is out of work (Ozon cuts to Marion looking uncomfortable—does this suggest that she is unwilling to be married to a man who has lost his money and status?); another shows Gilles and Marion sleeping together and going languidly about their daily routines on the morning of the divorce. The 16-minute Making Of 5x2 is actually not as expansive as that title would suggest, consisting of behind-the-scenes footage of the shooting of the wedding scene. It's interesting to watch Ozon and his crew bustle around and tell people what to do for a few minutes, but a little of this sort of thing goes a long way. We also get a six-minute audition tape of Bruni Tedeschi and Freiss performing a scene that did not make it into the final film, and a pointless minute of lighting test footage.
Ozon has a rather schizophrenic output; he's best known stateside for his Chabrol-esque thriller The Swimming Pool, but his artistic personality remains somewhat difficult to pin down. 5x2 itself is a rather difficult film to get a firm grasp on. Elements of the psychological drama, the cynical satire, and the oblique metaphysical art film jostle each other uncomfortably, and the result is less than totally satisfying, even if there are plenty of cinematic pleasures along the way.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• Deleted Scenes
Review content copyright © 2005 Joe Armenio; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.