Rarely has an actress given so much away yet hidden so much more, without having to utter even a single word. From Amélie to A Very Long Engagement, to Coco Before Chanel, Beautiful Lies and the underrated Priceless, Audrey Tautou is the sylph-like, bauble-eyed picture of vulnerability masking a fiercely Parisian sense of self.
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David and Stéphane Foenkinos’ Delicacy is a tailor-made fit for Tautou. Here she plays Nathalie, at first a young lover recently married and vibrantly happy, and then, after her husband (Pio Marmaï) is killed in a road accident, a grief stricken, work-obsessed widow. “Tragedy only makes her more beautiful,” leers her suave and suited boss as he watches her leave his office. Coveted by every man she meets, Nathalie has remained encased in mourning. But now, tentatively, she may be willing to once more move towards the light and love again.
This is where Delicacy plays its hand. Because hovering in the background of her office life, unnoticed by everyone and faded into shallow focus by the wide-eyed stares of our heroine, is the most unexpected of companions. Markus Lundl (François Damiens) is both balding and hairy, lumbering and clumsy, his clothing a hundred shades of murky beige hanging mournfully from apologetic shoulders. In an act of impulse that she at first denies (“I was just daydreaming, let’s forget it and move in”), Nathalie rises from her desk as if in a trance, before gliding towards the unsuspecting Markus to engage him in a kiss.
As her office goes into a meltdown of gossip, the two slowly circle each other, finding an accord that seems based on something more than a quickening of the pulse. While he struggles to overcome his own insecurities, he can make her laugh, make her relax and carefree. She’s drawn to him, but at first keen to keep their dealings wrapped in secrecy. Is she scared of a new emotional commitment, or embarrassed by him? Does she know, deep down, that this can only go so far or, or, after so much pain, is this careful company exactly what she wants?
In its look and feel and sweet acoustic score, Delicacy genuflects to the schemas and clichés of the quirky indie romance, and in its worst moments it threatens self-sabotage; a calibrated romance of the beauty who falls for the beast. By inference, is the film merely re-glossing the shining walls of superficiality, inviting us to laugh at one as we bow to the other? But Delicacy finds itself in standing firm against the conventions of story and plot. Bravely, honestly, it remains gloriously unresolved, an almost cruel posit of a question no-one has ever really answered; do nice guys finish last?
Delicacy is out now in selected UK cinemas.
Text: Tom Seymour