David and Stéphane Foenkinos’ debut feature Delicacy (La délicatesse, 2011) is a predictably whimsical and lightweight French rom-com starring the perpetually typecast Audrey Tautou, performing a watered-down version of her tremendous pixie-like central performance in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 hit Amelie – minus all the charm and joie de vivre of that earlier work.
Based on the book by David Foenkinos, Delicacy tells the rather formulaic story of love lost, despair and love reborn through the eyes of protagonist Nathalie Kerr (Tautou), whose life is thrown into turmoil when her husband François (Pio Marmaï) suddenly dies. From that moment on, Nathalie decides to throw herself into her work and ignore her emotional life until, on a whim, she decides to kiss Swedish co-worker Markus Lundl (François Damiens). You’ll probably be able to guess the film’s trajectory from here.
Perhaps the greatest problem with Delicacy is the fact that one of the directing brothers wrote the source material. There are few examples of writers making great directors, for one simple reason – what works in a literary context rarely works on screen without some form of cinematic alteration. Without this distinction, films often appear clumsy and overly formulaic; two problems the Foenkinos’ debut undoubtedly suffers from.
This literary over-reliance is also visible in its regimented three-act structure, with the audience dragged (perhaps not quite kicking and screaming) through the grieving Nathalie’s emotional development. This clinical framework results in a great deal of predictably which never puts us in any fear that our heroine will fail to find happiness before the two hours are up.
Despite once again being typecast, Tautou is still at points highly enjoyable to watch, with Damiens’ Markus also providing a useful point of reference for men who suffer low self esteem. It’s certainly not the quality of the cast that hinders this film, but instead its trite story.
Whilst Delicacy’s gentle comedy and adequate performances may appeal to some, the film could well leave the majority of audiences incredibly unsatisfied and wondering just why it took two hours to tell a story that explores only surface-level emotional issues.