François and Nathalie, the young French couple in Delicacy, are delirious with love. They go separately to a cafe and pretend not to know each other, then kiss breathlessly on the curb outside. He proposes by putting his key ring around her finger (poverty is adorable!) They invite their parents over for a lunch that lasts too long and then tell them they want to make a baby just so they can be alone. They are so gorgeous and so breathtakingly happy that you know something bad is in store, because it’s the only plot development available in the face of such joy.
That bad development is pretty terrible, and it leaves Nathalie (Audrey Tautou of Amélie and The Da Vinci Code) a widow. Delicacy is mostly about what happens to her three years later, after the initial outpouring of loss and grief. She has survived with the support of her family and friends and by throwing herself into a job so poorly defined that I can’t even tell you what she does except that it involves “cases” and that she is employed by a Swedish company in Paris. Law? Social work? Something involving IKEA? Hard to say.
Her creepy married boss — a walking sexual harassment lawsuit if he worked in the United States — tries to hit on her, and she’s repulsed. But she finds herself drawn to nice but slightly dorky Swedish colleague Markus (François Damiens) and begins to make strides toward moving on.
Delicacy bears a slight whiff of Anthony Minghella’s fantastic Truly Madly Deeply, but while Minghella’s film is a romantic comedy classic, Delicacy hovers just this side of memorable. The movie has plenty going for it, including the charming Tautou; the likable Damiens, who makes you understand what Nathalie sees in this balding, unprepossessing guy; and a whimsical and deeply peculiar sense of humor. There are one or two excellent visual gags and a quick Stieg Larsson joke that will make you laugh aloud; in adapting his novel, screenwriter and co-director David Foenkinos hones in hilariously on the casual snobbery of the French. Upon hearing that Nathalie may be dating Markus, her boss sputters in fury; how could she spurn him for someone who dresses like that?
But there’s something missing here, maybe in the vagueness about Nathalie’s work or in her unlikely behavior when she meets Markus that feels utterly false (he comes to her office with a question, and she plants a big smooch on him with no warning; what is going on at this place of business?). There are scattered pockets of tedium that plague the movie, like the scene in which she finally introduces Markus to her friends and he reacts badly, which feels like a standard romantic roadblock. Delicacy ends on a wonderful bittersweet note, but getting there isn’t as effortless as you might want it to be.
Cast: Audrey Tautou, Francois Damiens, Bruno Todeschini.
Directors: David Foenkinos, Stephane Foenkinos.
Screenwriter: David Foenkinos.
Producers: Xavier Rigault, Marc-Antoine Robert.
A Cohen Media Group release. Running time: 108 minutes. In French with English subtitles. Adult themes. Opens Friday March 16 in Miami-Dade: South Beach; in Palm Beach: Shadowood, Delray.