This tonally garbled French farce will probably not go down as Kristin Scott-Thomas' finest hour.
The marmite-esque sub-genre known as the ‘comedie de moeurs’ (translation: 'comedy of manners’) deftly ranks ceaseless witty dialogue over a typically lightweight farcical plot. Displaying a distinct absence of both, Pascal Bonitzer's Looking for Hortense is a dreary, misjudged comedy of errors which always fails to amuse.
Director-writer Bonitzer weaves together the stories of three curious but under-developed characters. In the main we follow the adventures of hen-pecked professor Damien (Jean-PierreBacri) and his fight to stop the deportation of his wife’s Serbian acquaintance and prospective erotic distraction, Zorica (Isabelle Carré). Emasculating himself in the process, Damien embarks on a frustrating game of cat and mouse with his intangible father, a senior member of the French Council of State, in an attempt to mask his habitual incompetence and gain some much-needed Brownie points from both his wife and Zorica.
Kristin phones in a classic ‘Scott-Thomas’ as nonchalant stage director Iva, Damien’s discontented wife who is herself in possession of a wandering eye, the prize being the young, handsome leading man of her latest production. This provides a fleetingly dramatic subplot of very mild intrigue. Bonitzer is quick to unravel the marriage of Iva and Damien, despite some stirring moments between the two and frequent amusing interjections from their outlandish son, Noe (Marin Orcand Tourres). Eva’s anticipated exodus becomes an underwhelming and perfunctory departure, as opposed to a touching farewell and hastily gives way to Damien’s soul searching mid-life meltdown and unconvincing romantic pursuit of Zorica.
Looking For Hortense is a film of two halves – the first spent establishing Damien’s dysfunctional home-life and demanding deportation conundrum before literally losing the plot at the film’s halfway point, descending into a series of conceited twists and turns. The resulting multi-strand mish-mash fails to detract from the film’s uninspiring central premise, which runs out of steam long before the film’s lethargic 100-minute running time. Some credit can be given to the under-explored political subtext on the subject of immigration and deportation alluded to by Zorica’s earnest plight, but the surrounding narrative frenzy renders it almost inconsequential.
The award for most absurd plot twist goes to Damien’s inexplicable encounter with a handsome young Japanese waiter, with whom he wakes up stark naked having engaged in some uncharacteristic foot-fellatio. Whilst serving little narrative purpose (it is never mentioned again), the incident does succeed in providing the film's single smile-out-loud moment.
After another revealing turn from Kristin Scott Thomas’ in Only God Forgives, we'll watch anything with her name on the tin.
What’s going on? And who is Hortense?
Forget Hortense, we're still looking for the plot.