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Kino on Video presents
Fred: You're a pick-up artist!
DVD ReviewYvan Attal's first film, My Wife Is an Actress, revolved around a troubled marital relationship, and so it is with his follow-up, Happily Ever After (Ils se marièrent et eurent beaucoup d'enfants). Attal's ambivalent take on modern marriage looks at relationships through its main couple, Vincent (Attal) and Gabrielle (Charlotte Gainsbourg). They have what appears to be an relatively ideal marriage; they each have good jobs, their son isn't a terror, and they live in a cozy apartment. But all is not as it seems.
When we meet Gabrielle, our first encounter with her is at a club; we initially see her wandering through the it as the credits play, looking for someone unknown to us. The scene cuts to Gabrielle at the bar, telling off two guys trying to pick her up. Why bother, she asks, when all you want is sex and you're so clearly phony? The men don't quite know how to react to such a response, and when another man shows up and quickly picks her up, they still can't quite believe it. The man picking her up is her husband Vincent, and they quickly spin their role-playing into something steamier. But the next morning, Vincent and his buddy Georges (Alain Chabat) lament the luck of Fred (Alain Cohen), their bachelor pal. The three routinely get together, but Fred is delayed by his second tryst of the last 12 hours. Georges, a hotel manager, has provided Fred with the room for his latest conquest. When Fred (who isn't exactly pin-up material) shows up with a blonde babe, Vincent and Georges can barely keep their drooling leers to themselves.
As always though, each wants what the other has; Fred gets more women than he can keep track of, but he has no one in his life and nothing to come home to each night. Vincent and Georges lament being stuck with one woman at the cost of missing out on the rest. Before we know it, Vincent, who seemingly had everything made, is having an affair with a younger woman (Angie David). Her importance (or lack thereof) is emphasized by Attal's leaving her nameless. Naïvely, she doesn't consider herself Vincent's mistress, though the pair of them only get together in stolen moments. Gabrielle never gets proof of Vincent's philandering; she simply realizes it one day. She has had temptations of her own; her momentary connection in a record store with a stranger (Johnny Depp, in a cameo) leaves her confused.
I enjoyed this film quite a bit, though on its surface, it's about spoiled men who can't accept responsibility for their actions. But many of the little observational moments of married life rang true for me, and I liked the characters, for the most part, weaknesses and all. Attal's use of fantasy, such as Vincent and Gabrielle's affectionately rambunctious food fight, and the finale with Gabrielle and Depp, are beautifully staged. Depending on your point of view, Attal's lack of explanation for Vincent's philandering is either a weakness or a strength; my own impression is that Attal wants to argue that these sort of things simply happen. Some couples, like Vincent's parents, cruise through their life together without problem, while others, like Georges and his ultra-feminist wife Nathalie (Emmanuelle Seigner), seemingly fight constantly but remain together. And even couples that appear perfect, like Vincent and Gabrielle, can develop enough fissures to allow for an affair. The future of marriage is left open to question; Fred, faced with becoming a parent with one of his conquests who has become pregnant, tells Vincent marriage is outmoded. In the end, Attal's feelings about marriage echo what Sondheim wrote in Company, his great musical about marriage and relationships: "You're sorry-grateful,/Regretful-happy/Why look for answers/When none occur?"
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Kino's DVD presents the film in its original 2.35:1 ratio, and the film generally looks good, which shouldn't be a surprise given its recent vintage. However, the transfer is a PAL conversion, which results in some ghosting and shimmer. Overall, I didn't find it especially distracting. There are occasional less than solid blacks, but otherwise colors look good and there is a nice level of detail. English subtitles are optional.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: One option, Dolby 2.0, is on offer, and it's acceptable. The back speakers don't have much to do at all, and appear to have been mainly used for the music, which sounds fine. The French DVD of the film has DTS and Dolby 5.1, so this was a bit of a letdown.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Or (My Treasure), The Ninth Day
1 Deleted Scenes
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsAn entertaining look at marriage, Happily Ever After doesn't provide any easy answers to the questions it raises, but it's a fun ride nonetheless. Kino's DVD does a solid job of presenting the film.
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