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Cherchez Hortense by Pascal Bonitzer

February 2, 2013

Damien Hauer (Jean-Pierre Bacri) is an Asian studies specialist, his wife Iva (Kristin Scott Thomas) is a theater director: does it sound like a French film? yes, it’s set in Paris and this is only the beginning, later we’ll get the full “French film treatment” with Damien’s father – Sébastien (Claude Rich) – a powerful (and unavoidably vicious) politician, then with the personal drama of a sans-papiers (illegal immigrant), and last but not least we have intellectuals playing chess in a cafè. Looking into the heart of the film one could say the basic plot regards Damien’s messed up existence: a midlife crisis with an estranged wife, a son coping with teenage troubles, a bad relationship with his father, an absent (literally: she exists only via phone calls) mother, we have seen too many films like this one, if a director wants to revive this overused subject the film needs rhythm and inventiveness – just think of the brilliant The Women on the 6th Floor by Philippe Le Guay – which are lacking here: Bonitzer’s attempts to make us laugh fall flat, the ones to make us think do the same old thing, while the social commentary surrounding the main story is pointless.

The cast doesn’t help either: Isabelle Carré and Bacri sparkled ten years ago for Noémie Lvovsky – Les Sentiments – here Carré is a shadow, while Bacri does the Bacri thing and maybe is a little bit too old for the part. Cherchez Hortense is the sixth film directed by Pascal Bonitzer in sixteen years, a career he started after working many years in the film industry first as a film critic at Les Cahiers du Cinema and then as a successful screenwriter (Va Savoir and La Belle Noiseuse for Jacques Rivette, Nuit et Jour for Chantal Akerman and Les Innocents for André Téchiné among many others good titles) but he has never achieved that level of accomplishment directing his own scripts, Cherchez Hortense contains every cliché we expect to find in a French film, but none of the goodies.

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