Comments Off on Nathalie…

I saw Les Innocentes (2016) when it came out and now having seen Nathalie…(2003) as well I am convinced that writer/director Anne Fontaine deserves more serious attention, at least here in the United States. I’ve been reading old reviews of Nathalie… that might speak to the reason why Fontaine is generally overlooked stateside. These reviews that are contemporary to the theatrical release of Nathalie… seem to be primarily concerned with the films ability to live up to some erotic potential. But Nathalie… isn’t a film by Zalman King, even if the basic premise seems perfect for one of his films.

Catherine (Fanny Ardant) catches her husband Bernard (Gérard Depardieu) in an affair. So to seemingly entrap Bernard, Catherine pays a call girl (Emmanuelle Béart) to seduce him and instigate an affair. Together Catherine and the call girl invent the character Nathalie whom the latter will play in this game with Bernard. However things quickly change when Catherine begins to derive pleasure from the accounts of Nathalie and Bernard’s sexual encounters. There is, in the final act, a twist where it’s revealed that the whole affair was a ruse as a way of ripping off Catherine.

The film is structured around this affair yet Fontaine never shows the audience any sexual acts. Sex lives only in the verbal accounts that are given too Catherine. The viewer lives in Catherine’s place, visualizing images in the imagination as they are described. The effect of this is a far more intimate and erotic bond between image and spectator than one finds in Atom Egoyan’s more popular remake Chloe (2009).

Whether or not one sees the twist ending coming is besides the point. Visually Fontaine has made it explicit that there is an intimate bond that forms between Catherine and Nathalie that goes deeper than any kink. Catherine and Nathalie go out to dinner, they go dancing, they cling to each other tenderly in the back of a taxi. Even earlier in the film Catherine has Nathalie stay over at her mother’s to do her hair and just hangout. While sexual desire motivated Catherine to seek out Nathalie it is friendship and a possessiveness of Nathalie that keeps Catherine so close.

The issue is therefore that when Nathalie… was released critics failed to understand entirely that the erotic elements of Nathalie… are only the superficial trappings that allow Anne Fontaine to explore and examine specific aspects of female relationships. Of course this isn’t a healthy relationship, but it clearly enables the two lead female characters too, in the end, move beyond some of their own demons and frustrations by offering new perspectives.