Film Unsurprisingly there have been few romantic comedies about grief. The tonal shift from the utter-devistation of the loss of one's loved one to the sharing of romantic witty banter with a potential partner near impossible to achieve. The most prominent example, Sleepless in Seattle managed the switch by having Hanks’s character externalising his the loss through a radio show, with Meg Ryan vocalising our reaction, and keeping the two separate for the duration. Most often, when this most tragic of events is brought in proximity with comedy it's in the horror genre but during Scream or Shaun of the Dead there’s little time to dwell before the next action set piece.
Delicacy dwells. When Parisian office worker Natalie (Audrey Tautou) loses her husband in the most brutally unexpected way, she’s unable to cope with the change in perspective that the rest of the world has of her. She just wants people to treat her the same, but none of them know quite what to say, and that awkwardness leads to loneliness and much like Hanks in Sleepless, Natalie finds herself consumed with work, desperately wanting to Vulcanise her emotions in case she lets the grief in. The wandering eyes of her boss don’t help and it's only until she unconsciously senses a similar emptiness in a co-worker that she’s able to articulate her feelings.
But for Markus (Francois Damiens), it’s the emptiness of the life not led, of a person overlooked by society and so whose overlooked his own potential, marinating in the juices of self-doubt and politeness. Having moved to Paris fifteen years before with hopes of becoming absorbed in a new culture, he finds himself continuing to be defined by his Swedish heritage, working for a company based in his homeland, living among IKEA furniture and still looked upon as an outsider. When Natalie gives him some attention, he’s brimming with excitement but having (we assume) spent so much of his life alone, how can he possibly trust that she’ll love him back?
Adapted with his brother Stephane from his own best selling novel, David Foenkinos’s film somehow manages to transform these melancholic nuances into something incredibly funny. Even before Amelie put her on the international map, Tautou was already enjoying some success in these tonally unusual stories and part of the fun, surprisingly, is watching her friends unable to cope with her emotional resilience, and that she’s best placed to decide on her emotional arc. It’s a part she was destined to play. Literally. In the book, a chapter was apparently written in the form of a screenplay with Tautou cast as Natalie in a fantasy version of her life.
But it's in the sequences in which Markus has to cope with her interest that the film really finds its comic heart. Perhaps it's the laughter of recognition from those of us introverts who’ve been in a similar situation, but Damiens impressively observes the constant state of worry inherent in being even friends with a beautiful woman, not knowing what to say or even when to speak, of hesitating throughout each encounter and finally reasoning that since this person is far too good for you and at some point will probably become bored, there’s little point in trying, even in the most obviously romantic of situations.
Like Sleepless, your tolerance for Delicacy ultimately depends on how willing you are to wallow in all this and allow yourself to drown in the overflow of sentiment. But not all of those emotions are explained. Natalie’s best friend is also “enjoying” her own emotional arc, but the Foenkinoses demonstrate the necessary self-absorption of grief by never quite explaining her moments of desolation. That ambiguity gives the film a weight missing from most modern romcoms and shows that this first time director is able to leave the requirements of his natural medium to one side and trust his audience’s imagination to fill the empty space.
DELICACY opened at Picturehouse @ FACT in Liverpool on 13th April. Here are the screening times.
Review screening attended.