Californian beauty Isabel Walker (Kate Hudson) arrives in Paris to visit her pregnant sister Roxy de Persand (Naomi Watts) just as Charles-Henri de Persand (Melvil Poupaud) walks out on her for another woman. While Roxy and Charles-Henri join battle in le divorce proceedings, Isabel accepts the classic Parisian position of mistress to suave and high profile diplomat Edgar Cosset (Thierry Lhermitte), uncle to Charles-Henri, whose family is the quintessential, sophisticated and stubborn French unit of society, headed by its elegant, uncompromising matriarch Suzanne (Leslie Caron). Le divorce settlement is complicated by issues of the ownership and origins of a painting in Isabel and Charles-Henri’s Paris apartment, originally owned by the Walker family and possibly worth a fortune.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Our attention is instantly captured – even before the film begins – with an intriguing cast list comprising American, French and English actors of considerable talent. How can they all fit together? The answer lies in the story itself and the clever adaptation of a witty and well observed novel by Diane Johnson. Director James Ivory, better known for period dramas like Remains Of The Day, Howards End and Room With A View, has cast this contemporary comedy drama brilliantly, knowing that given good writing, casting is the key to something as complex and subtle and nuanced as this work.
That’s why, for example, he has cast even the supporting characters with such high quality stars as Stockard Channing, Bebe Neuwirth, Glenn Close and Stephen Fry, among others. And they all deliver wonderful, complete characters, each with something vital to contribute. (Matthew Modine’s jealous, unhinged husband could have been ditched, though, as a wrong note in the otherwise splendid symphony of cross-matched people and cultures.) As for the leads, they are all exceptional, Kate Hudson shining in the lead role of Isabel, the irrepressible young American in irresistible Paris. Her ability to convey the emotional complexity of her journey is matched by her ability to portray her character in a variety of ‘looks’ from glamorous to plain. Naomi Watts shows the depth of her talent and matches Hudson well as sister, while Thierry Lhermitte’s urbane Edgar makes his reprehensible womanising just one part of his total persona, and provides an insight into French social culture. As does Leslie Caron as Suzanne, with the whiff of old world traditions and the manners of the titled rich. How the Walkers (Stockard Channing as the sisters’ mother, Sam Waterston as their father) differ!
These elements of culture clash provide the all important backdrop and setting, while the relationships – romantic or otherwise – provide the pivotal drama. And comedy. The laughs come from recognition of flaws in character, from the pain of relationships and from the celebration of la difference. Le Divorce is at once truthful and sharp, gentle and humane; it doesn’t set out to judge or ridicule any of its characters or their motives, but it doesn’t flinch from showing their flaws, either. Superbly made in craft terms, the film is both entertaining and memorable. Le Divorce is Le must.
Review by Louise Keller:
Le Divorce is a divine soupcon, whether you’re divorced or not. From Merchant Ivory, renowned for their literary adaptations from eras gone by, comes this fresh comedy of manners and morals, where gastronomy, couture and seduction jauntily jostle for attention. Set in Paris, the film’s adaptation of Diane Johnson’s novel captures the clash of cultures between the Americans and the French beautifully, and while we may all agree with the sentiment Vive La Difference, we can also enjoy the outlandish situations it presents. The film revels in its playfulness, as the chic and the bourgeois collide. But the heart of the story revolves around Kate Hudson’s Isabel Walker, who arrives in Paris with big eyes and a cute innocent smile.
Eager to be swept away by everything French – from a new sleek hairdo to chic, sexy underwear and a French lover to boot, for Isabel the journey to Francophile-heaven is a joyous trip, as we discover in the bedroom and the best restaurants. Like Isabel, we drool as elaborate desserts with spun sugar and devilishly sumptuous cheese plates delight the degustation. Hudson embodies Isabel with voracity, and sparkles at every turn. The speed with which she embraces the notion of becoming womanising Edgar’s mistress is almost shocking. Thierry L’Hermitte’s Edgar is a smooth, sweet-talker whose affinity with Hermes gifts for his mistresses becomes the amusing signpost pointing to his latest conquest. Naomi Watts’ poetess Roxy is perhaps the least developed character, never really allowing us to connect to her – but through no fault of Watts. The rest of the cast reads like a splendid menu with elegant Leslie Caron as the hoity-toity mother-in-law, Stockard Channing as her American middleclass counterpart, Glenn Close (brilliant in a long, grey wig) as the bohemian expat author who has seen it all, and Stephen Fry and Bebe Neuwirth as art-world specialists.
The subtle differences between the two countries are elegantly shown: sex is the taboo topic in America, whereas in France, it’s money that is not talked about. Le Divorce is a most enjoyable affair and those who are attuned to the cultural nuances that divide the nationalities will especially revel in the experience.
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LE DIVORCE (M)
CAST: Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts, Thierry Lhermitte, Leslie Caron, Glenn Close, Bebe Neuwirth, Stockard Channing, Jean-Marc Barr, Stephen Fry, Sam Waterston, Matthew Modine
PRODUCER: Ismail Merchant, Michael Schiffer
DIRECTOR: James Ivory
SCRIPT: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, James Ivory (novel by Diane Johnson)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Pierre Lhomme
EDITOR: John David Allen
MUSIC: Richard Robbins
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jacques Bufnoir, Frederic Benard
RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Searchlight
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 6, 2003