Starring: Jean-Pierre Bacri, Kristin Scott Thomas, Isabelle Carré
Genre: Drama/ Comedy/ World Cinema
University lecturer Damien (Bacri) and stage director Iva (Scott Thomas) are a seemingly happy French bourgeois couple. When, as a favour for the sister of her friend’s boyfriend, Iva asks Damien to ask a favour of his father, a state councillor, to use his position to allow an eastern European immigrant to be legally allowed asylum in France. There is one problem; his father is a very busy man and the two of them severely dislike each other. Before he can explain the situation, Iva has told everyone that Damien has persuaded his father to sort it out and the ensuing problems expose the cracks in their relationship (particularly as Iva has the hots for the lead male actor in the play she is directing) and Damien’s life in general.
Looking for Hortense is most certainly not heavy on plot, but this simple plot allows many great scenes and themes to be explored in the narrative’s lean (particular for a French drama) 100 minutes. This is no way a film that will make you reassess your life, but at its heart is an extremely watchable and enjoyable well written and acted comedy/drama. Though here in Jolly old England Kristin Scott Thomas is (understandably) marketed as the star, and she is good, but the star of the film is Jean-Pierre Bacri. Admittedly the film working relies quite heavily on his performance being a good one, but he gives a beautifully understated and melancholic performance, providing us with a tragic and compelling protagonist.
As things seem to go from bad to worse for poor Damien it is not all doom and gloom, as there is certainly an air of satire and subtle comedy that stops things from ever getting to heavy. There is plenty of subtle social commentary here on politics and relationships, but thankfully this never gets to heavy or preachy like some other recent French films such as Rust and Bone. This is mainly down to Bomitzer and Agnés de Sacy’s witty and intelligent script that often relies on subtleties, subtext and quirky humour to keep things permanently watchable. The comedy is more subtle, and though as always the marketing bods will focus on the comedy there are very few ‘laugh out loud moments’, though Damien’s encounter with a Japanese waiter being the exception.
Unfortunately it is the final third that lets Looking for Hortense down in my view. Though the title starts to make perfect sense, it seems Bomitzer struggled to find an ending, and it all feels a tad generic, neat and a little false. This is especially the case involving the Eastern European immigrant called Aurore (Carré), who does how ever also give an excellent performance despite her character feeling a tad generic and convenient. There is an undeniable underwhelming feeling at the end which does tarnish some of the hard work that has preceded it, but otherwise Looking for Hortense is still an extremely watchable comedy/drama.
Looking for Hortense is a subtle examination of the bourgeois society and some of its faults, but despite being French is not actually too smug or preachy, leaving a thoroughly enjoyable and watchable little comedy/drama that is both well written and acted.