Five Times Two

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Movie Review by Jonathan Harvey

Starring: Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Stephane Freiss, Françoise Fabian
Director: François Ozon

Watching a divorce lawyer reading out the terms of a couple’s separation while they sit and listen isn’t the most comforting start to a romantic drama, but it’s a mesmeric way to catapult us into the lives of Gilles (Stephane Freiss) and Marion (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) in 5×2. The title refers to the five emotional vignettes, told in reverse order, through which their relationship is recounted, in this latest film by François Ozon, director of the critically acclaimed SWIMMING POOL.

It’s not the first time the device of telling a story backwards has been used to good effect in screenwriting, but even so it really does work a treat here, making you want to keep watching and learning more about the couple’s past, even though (and because) you know their romance is ultimately doomed. The film starts at the moment of the divorce settlement and a seedy, pre-arranged, final fling in a hotel. Ozon then shows us selected snapshots of their life together, taking in a dinner party with Gilles’ gay brother and his younger partner in which conversation turns to infidelity, and where the cracks in the marriage are clear to see. Going back further, we’re taken back to the birth of the couple’s child (and Gilles’ absence from it), and then to the wedding night, when Marion meets a strange American and ends up having sex with him. The final vignette shows the two of them flirting on holiday, building to their implied getting together as the credits roll.

The screenplay, co-written by Ozon, is a beautiful distillation of how love can blossom, fracture and finally shatter between two people, and both Freiss and Tedeschi are gripping and entirely convincing as Gilles and Marion. Neither party is guiltless in the collapse of the marriage, and it’s one of the film’s pleasures that it raises potent questions about relationships without offering any easy or reassuring answers. The result is a powerful and passionate drama, which comes highly recommended and confirms Ozon’s talents as a filmmaker.

5 out of 6 stars