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Movie Review

Delicacy

Loving Audrey Tautou: She’s more human than pixie this time, but she still carries ‘Delicacy’

Delicacy Audrey Tautou as Nathalie and Francois Damiens as Markus in "Delicacy." (Cohen Media Group)
By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / March 23, 2012
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"Unpredictable’’ is one adjective you could use to describe the new Audrey Tautou movie, “Delicacy.’’ Others might be “charming,’’ “offbeat,’’ “droll.’’ “Unfocused’’ and “underwhelming’’ also apply. A small, eccentric tale of amour lost and refound, the movie’s mostly about the joys of being in love with Audrey Tautou. Every man in the film immediately falls for her character, Nathalie, and at times the camera swoons as it looks at her. It is assumed you will feel the same, which may depend on how many times you’ve seen 2001’s “Amelie.’’

More than a decade after that international art-house hit, the star is still a wide-eyed gamine, but time is blurring her edges. That’s not a bad thing; in “Delicacy,’’ Tautou seems more human than pixie. The movie quickly sets up a meet-cute/marry-cuter relationship between Nathalie and Francois (Pio Marmaï), who are such a perfect French couple that even their Parisian friends stand back in awe.

But perfection doesn’t last in movies, and Francois is quickly dispatched, leaving his widow in a three-year funk. Tautou has always been a reactive actress - she lets her moony eyes do most of the work - but what can be a limitation works well here, as Nathalie watches the world pass by from behind the gentle prison of her sadness. She busies herself in her office job - otherwise unspecified, it has something to do with caseloads and Swedes - while the men in the office wilt alongside her. “Tragedy just makes her more beautiful,’’ sighs her romantically inclined boss (Bruno Todeschini). Among other things, “Delicacy’’ makes you curious about workplace harassment policies in France.

Then co-director brothers David and Stéphane Foenkinos, working from David’s novel, throw a curve - they introduce an attraction of sorts between Nathalie and a co-worker named Markus (François Damiens), a hulking, balding, gap-toothed Swede with a big heart but minimal social skills. Those same friends are now appalled, and even the audience is meant to initially recoil from the match - how dare the filmmakers pair the Tinkerbelle of French cinema with this Yeti?

Even Markus keeps checking his wallet - he compares their relationship to Liechtenstein going out with America, and there’s a marvelous shot of him walking down the street imagining every woman overcome with desire for him. “Delicacy’’ raises an interesting idea, which is that we’re often more invested in our friends’ romances than our own, especially if those friends have more than their share of grace and misfortune.

Having raised that idea, the Foenkinoses aren’t sure where to take it. “Delicacy’’ walks a cautious line between realism and shaggy-dog whimsy, and its hesitancy comes to grate as much as it charms. Without stronger filmmaking and performances to support it, the conceit itself comes to seem half-baked. Why shouldn’t Nathalie date whomever she wants, even if she can’t explain the attraction? It happens often enough in the world outside movies.

As its title suggests, “Delicacy’’ is best in its smaller moments, and even if it never convinces us that Nathalie and Markus really belong together, the movie provides the couple with a lovely valedictory in a rural French garden. The Foenkinoses want to capture love as it’s appearing out of nowhere. They catch a few glimpses but mostly they gaze in wonderment at their star.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.

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DELICACY Directed by: David and Stéphane Foenkinos

Written by: David Foenkinos, based on his novel

Starring: Audrey Tautou, François Damiens, Pio Marmaï, Bruno Todeschini

At: Kendall Square and West Newton

Running time: 108 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (some strong language and mild knocks against the Swedes)

In French, with subtitles

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