Sunday, December 11, 2005

5x2 (Ozon, 2004)

If François Ozon’s 5x2 had been the first film to employ a reverse chronological style, then there might have been some definitive value to the project and the way it allows us travel through time and discover the defining moments in a marriage destined to end in an ugly divorce. However, Ozon arrives late to the game, following Betrayal, Irreversible and Memento. Even films like Pulp Fiction and its imitators -- while not employing a strictly ‘backwards’ chronology – have accustomed viewers to temporal playfulness. This is not to say that unfolding a drama from back to front is necessarily a bad idea. It just means that the device is quickly moving beyond gimmick status and becoming simply another accepted method of storytelling. Viewers need more than the simple irony of seeing characters unknowingly stepping toward unpleasant fates. Reverse chronology films still need strong themes that are well-suited to being explored within the chosen framework.

5x2 does have an underlying purpose; however, it is not a terribly compelling one. In a film that seems like a faint echo of Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage, Ozon uses five episodes from a tumultuous relationship to explore the way humans alternately seek and resist fidelity. Although they are raising a young boy, Marion and Gilles are anything but a pillar of stability. They have a union that, from the very beginning, is darkened by the shadow of infidelity. Neither partner is blameless, though it is difficult to discern just how much each knows about the other. When Gilles’ gay brother and his boyfriend brag about their open relationship, Gilles seems proud to announce that he has ‘only’ been unfaithful to Marion on one occasion. Though Ozon gets brave performances from his lead actors, neither the episodic structure nor the reverse chronology serve him well. By the end of the film, we know far too little about Marion and Gilles to be able to truly get invested in their lives. Also, the emotional tension of the first scene is never matched, resulted in a film that peaks far too early. Whereas Gaspar Noe was able to wickedly twist the knife in the final idyllic scenes of Irreversible, Ozon’s film simply fizzles in a final scene that offers little insight. In the end, there are mysteries that remain, yet none so intriguing that we care to offer too much thought to see them resolved. Ultimately, Ozon skates by on style and a lot of help from Valeria Bruni Tedeschi as Marion, but this is not one of his better films.



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