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Reviews: Le Divorce

Le Divorce- Directed by James Ivory Starring Kate Hudson, Noami Watts, Leslie Caron, Thierry Lhermitte
Based on the best-selling novel by Diane Johnson. Produced by Ismail Merchant.
Screenplay Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and James Ivory.

Isabel Walker- Kate Hudson
Roxeanne de Persand- Naomi Watts
Gennie de Persand -Esmée Buchet-Deāk
Antoine de Persand- Samuel Labarthe
Suzanne de Persand- Leslie Caron
Edgar Cosset -Thierry Lhermitte
Charlotte de Persand -Nathalie Richard
Olivia Pace- Glenn Close
Chester Walker- Sam Waterston
Margeeve Walker -Stockard Channing
Julia Manchevering -Bebe Neuwirth
Maître Bertram- Jean-Marc Barr
Magda Tellman -Rona Hartner
Piers Janely- Stephen Fry
Crazy Guy- Mathew Modine

There are times when older directors strike gold and all their accumulated experiences come together to make one last great film. Altman did it with Gosford Park, although reports of his new one on the world of Ballet isnšt so hot. Right now it is James Ivoryšs turn for glory and hešs blown it.

Attending the French premiere of this film in Deauville where there was maximum goodwill towards it and with most of the French Cast, director and producer, the ever present Ismail Merchant, all present, they must have been hoping for rapture. It was a good job they took their bows at the beginning because this is a throwback to the type of American film they used to make when Irma la Douce and Shirley McLaine was big, only without a sense of humour or irony. Paris seems to overawe American directors. If this is indeed a comedy of manners, then a few good pithy lines are needed to make it real. No one feels 'real' and that's a shame.

Watching a James Ivory film is a lot like standing in the rain outside a busy lighted room where a warm fire beckons. You canšt go in and share the warm or the laughter. Le Divorce is mirthless. Kate Hudson is stuck in a cliche and has niether the sophistication to make her attractive to a rich Parisian or the wit to make us care.
This may be billed as a comedy of manners but the film is riven with competing plot diversions and it plays the old ' 'oh shucks we are just hokey Americans lost in Paris' card so often you want to throw up. Everyone does their job and Kate Hudson is from a loving (but very wealthy Californian family Sam Waterston and Stockard channing play the 'Out of Towners' in Paris).

Kate is visiting her sister Naomi in Paris, just as her French husband walks out on her because he has found a new love. Her sister has a child and this isn't very convenient. I understand that the sisters are distracted by events but they don't seem very close to each other, there is no chemistry between them.

So now to 'le divorce' division of property and all that. The sister has a family painting that might be valuable, so naturally the grasping French want a piece of that. Lesile Caron is excellent as the matriarch of the family, Stephen Fry plays it very straight as the 'art expert'. Kate has an affair with her husband's cousin - shock horror a man of 54 played by the very sophisticated Thierry Lhermitte (Diner au Cons). That he falls for Kate Hudson seems a bit odd, but this is the movies. There is alot of business with a Grace Kelly bag and scarfs and somehow Kate acquires a Lola haircut and sexy suspenders, which all mistresses wear I believe. Now add in the chaotic subplot of the desperate partner of Naomi's husband's new lover and you can only feel very sorry for Mathew Modine that he needed the money so badly that he is in this movie.

The French as played with stuffy sophistication by the French, the Americans seem simple and put upon. The best thing in the whole film is Glen Close who absolutely steals all the scenes she is in and is a delight to watch.
Of course, like any movie about Paris not by a Frenchman, we have to go up the Ifle tower and have a major dramatic scene there, but it is all so utterly pointless it's sad. There are other landmarks in Paris I am sure.
There are other diversions and plot twists, but this is much like a postcard from Paris;iInadequate to demonstrate all it has, yet clearly wishes you were here. Like the pastries, pretty but cloying and very bad for your health.
Send your mother, she'll love it.

© Sam North September 2003

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