Looking for Hortense

Joseph Walsh

Kristin Scott Thomas once again sets about pleasing audiences with her Gallic tongue, reuniting with Pascal Bonitzer for the first time since Small Cutts (2003) in the witty, Parisian intellectual drama, Looking for Hortense.

Iva (played with delectable bite by Scott Thomas) is a demanding woman. When she isn’t barking orders at the cast in her latest theatrical production she is bullying her scatterbrained teacher husband Damien (Jean-Pierre Bacri, with a dogged look due to his permanent 3 o’clock shadow), into calling in a favour with his judge father, to acquire a visa for a woman they've never met named Zordica. The idea of having to ask his father for a favour practically causes physical convulsions in Damien, but still he sets about helping this woman he's never met, mainly to keep his wife off his back.

Between Scott Thomas' quick delivery of backhanded quips and Baci’s sorrowful, middle-aged sad sack, there's a lot to be enjoyed in the performances. More disappointing is the lukewarm action that ebbs and flows but never really runs. While initially Scott Thomas takes centre stage, her philandering character quickly steps aside for Baci’s Damien. What we’re given is light, intellectual comedy that gives more than a passing nod to Checkovian comedies ('The Black Monk' and 'The Cherry Orchard' are briefly mentioned). There is something comic and tragic about it all as Damien and Iva’s marriage quickly collapses, with the comic relief provided by their teenage son Noe (Marin Orcand-Tourres, looking like Daniel Radcliffe as 11-year-old Harry Potter), who swears frequently at the breakfast table.

The script, provided by Bonitzer and Agnes De Sacy, and the performances are perhaps far more interesting than the story they're wrapped in. Amid the offbeat comedy (that is hit and miss at the best of times) we get an engaging presentation of multiculturalism in Paris and the problems that France faces in terms of its racial politics. There's a lot of snobbery at play here, where if it's highbrow enough the French will accept it (such as the aforementioned Checkov), but when it's a low-paid waitress such as Zordica she is tossed out of the country without a second thought. At times, these issues are used to comic effect aping the comically tragic style of the nineteenth century Russian novelist and playwrights.

While this is all conveyed by superb performances, and it is always fun to see KST showing off her impeccable linguistic skills, the story is incredibly lacklustre and a little dull, despite the issues it raises.

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