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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 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.

Published March 4, 2004

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CAST: Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts, Thierry Lhermitte, Leslie Caron, Glenn Close, Bebe Neuwirth, Stockard Channing, Jean-Marc Barr, Stephen Fry, Sam Waterston, Matthew Modine

DIRECTOR: James Ivory

SCRIPT: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, James Ivory (novel by Diane Johnson)

RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16:9 widescreen


DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: March 4, 2004

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