Here’s a film that explores the marital and extramarital customs of French men, the French women who apparently understand and accept those customs and the American women who…well have divided opinions regarding them. It’s called LE DIVORCE and stars Naomi Watts as Roxanne Le Persand, the American wife of a French painter Charles-Henri Le Persand. Just as Roxy’s sister Isabel (Kate Hudson) comes from the States for a visit, she finds that Charles Henri is moving out. And the question for Roxy, the Mother of a small child, expecting another soon is, what’s the next step in her life? It’s really not that simple, because she is still involved with the larger Le Persand family, whose matriarch, played by the great Leslie Caron still expects them for Sunday dinner each week at her estate in the country. And apparently expects the men in her family to be involved in an occasional dalliance.
And her own brother, a political figure of some note, is soon engaging in such a dalliance with young Isabel. After an apparently innocent luncheon date, he poses the question directly, in fact, "are you ready to be my mistress?" She accepts, and is given an gift that becomes a significant prop in the movie…an expensive red Hermes purse…known as a "Kelly" because of it’s association with Grace Kelly. Isabel has just landed a job with author Olivia Pace (Glenn Close) to help arrange her papers for publication. Olivia once received a Kelly from the same man.
So here we are, as American viewers, enjoying our lesson about the behavior of French men. Well, some French men. The ones who can afford it? I don’t know, we aren’t told the exceptions to the rule, only that American women are not taught to understand it. And that the divorce laws are tilted toward the advantage of the man. And that division of property is among them. And that the concern of the family that should be giving Roxanne some emotional support, begins to be consumed instead by a family heirloom painting of St. Ursala, that may or may not have been done by the French artist La Tour. It was loaned to Roxy, hanging in her and her husband’s apartment, so was it their property, and the most expensive piece of property that they owned?
Lots of soilid acting to support this tale of conflicting moralities and legalitites. Bebe Neuwirth as an agent of the Getty Museum, well-known British actor Stephen Fry representing the famed British auction house, each competing with the Louvre for ownership of the painting. Stockard Channing and Sam Watterston as the parents of the two sisters, come to Paris for a visit-and to straighten out questions about the painting. And Matthew Modine as an American slightly off his rocker because he’s losing his wife to the errant Charles-Henri Le Persand. That’s the guy who started this mess by leaving Roxy. This is a smartly done film by Merchant and Ivory, with direction by James Ivory.
Le Divorce is now showing at the Showplace East in Bloomington and reviewing the movies for WFIU, I’m Joe Bourne.