Audrey Tautou made it clear to audiences that she had a certain je ne sais quoi when she appeared in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie as a free-spirited pixie living in a dream world of her own creation, but to her credit even that fantastic little film didn’t fully disclose her depth as an actress. A full decade later, and Tautou is only more strikingly beautiful from age and her ability to impart years of emotional heartbreak into a single glance has only improved. She puts that talent to excellent use in David Foenkinos and Stéphane Foenkinos’ intimate romantic comedy Delicacy (La delicatesse), which sees her as a bereaved young woman who finds new purpose in an awkward love with a co-worker (François Damiens).
Nathalie (Tautou) had found the life she’d always wanted with a man (Pio Marmai) who understood her at the deepest levels. They lived together in a blissful so perfect that even their in-laws were absolutely charming. When a tragedy brings that romantic utopia to an end, Nathalie withdraws from emotional attachment and buries herself in her work with a Swedish firm. Her devotion to her work acts as a substitute for any meaningful human interaction and it maintains her fragile emotional core long enough to build up a wall from the outside world. Though she considered herself done with love, life makes a different choice for her and she stumbles into a relationship with her tall, plain associate Markus (Damiens), who wants to treat what they have as something more, only to find her resistant to the idea that she could ever love again.
The story is simple and not wholly original, but it benefits greatly from the nuance of both Tautou and Damiens’ performances. For Tautou much of the role involves the far away looks into remembrance and twinges of facial expressions as Nathalie struggles internally with the love lost and the love newly discovered, weighing guilt of moving on from her beloved against the moments of joy Markus brings her. Not unexpectedly this results in many moments of silence and introspection, many of which end with humorously awkward moments. It’s not much of a stretch for Tautou from past roles, but it’s a type of character she does well and one she can bring lots of depth to.
There are so many great things to be said about Damiens performance in Delicacy, not the least of which is how pleasant of surprise he is in a comedic role, especially when you’ve never encountered him before. Playing a large man uncomfortable in his own skin, Damiens gives Markus a number of strange mannerisms that pay off in some very funny ways, like an instinct to turn and run that’s made all the funnier by Damien’s long gait. It’s a fantastic performance by Damiens and it’s the kind that makes you want to seek out his previous work to see where he’s coming from as well as keep an eye on his future projects to see how he grows. There’s tremendous potential here.
Though we’ve seen the story of a person finding romance again after losing the love of their life before, Delicacy leaves the presence of the deceased in place instead of leaving them behind as an obstacle of affection that must be overcome. It’s an approach to the subject matter you don’t often see, but what’s rarer still is the way Damiens’ character handles it with Markus treating Nathalie’s former beau as the step that led her to him, albeit somewhat tragically. It’s a nice emotional twist on a well-worn trope and it gives both Tautou and Damiens space to instill their characters with a level of intimacy by letting Markus share in the loss instead of merely consoling Nathalie for hers.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
There’s not much here, but what we do get is quite enjoyable. A production featurette with the cast and crew describing key moments and experiences from the creation of the film and an interview with Tautou make up the best extras on the disc. A trailer rounds out the bonus offerings.
"Delicacy" is on sale September 25, 2012 and is rated PG13. Comedy, Romance. Directed by Stephane Foenkinos, David Foenkinos. Written by David Foenkinos. Starring Audrey Tautou, Francois Damiens.