Delicacy begins with a subtle nod to When a Man Loves a Woman‘s opening as a young man named Francois watches a beautiful woman enter and sit down. As the waiter approaches her Francois makes a mental prediction as to her order, and if he gets it right he promises himself that he’ll work up the courage to approach and talk to her. He does, and soon the two are embracing outside. They were simply re-enacting their meeting, playing the roles of strangers on the cusp of a romance, but in reality they’re already deeply in love.
Their parents occasionally pester them for grandchildren, but Francois (Pio Marmai) and Nathalie (Audrey Tautou) put plans for a baby on hold “for when they’re talked out.” They’re happy and content and looking forward to a full future.
But when he’s struck and killed by a car, Nathalie is forced to continue on without him. Or at least try to. She blocks out friendly attempts to help her, throws his belongings into the trash and rushes back to work sooner than expected. Her career becomes her sole focus, and a few years later she’s heading up large projects at work and still romantically unattached despite the best efforts of her impassioned but somewhat smarmy boss.
And then the giant Swede walks through the door.
“I could go on holiday in your hair.”
Markus (François Damiens) is a co-worker from Sweden barely noticed in Nathalie’s day to day trance, but one morning she finds herself dazed by memories of Francois and when Markus enters her office she kisses him full on the lips. She immediately forgets about it, but for him that’s an impossibility. A goofy, teeth-filled smile takes up permanent residence on his face as he returns to his desk in his own daze.
The pair are a total mismatch in every regard but none more so than their diametrically opposed physical presences. He towers over her, and a scene where he puts his hand to her face calls to mind Gulliver reaching toward a Lilliputian. (That’s a slight exaggeration.) As Nathalie finds herself courted both by Markus and her boss (Bruno Todeschini) she’s forced back into the real world from the emotional coma that has ensconced her last few years, but will either man be enough to make her love again? (And if not, is there a sign-up sheet available somewhere?)
David and Stéphane Foenkinos’ film works as both a light romance, comedy and meditation on grief, but more than anything else it continues to showcase Tautou as a talented movie star and ethereal screen beauty. From love to grief to anger to joy and back again, Tautou’s lovely elfin visage runs the gamut of emotions, and she conveys most of it solely through her eyes and expressions. “What if I fixed this moment?” she asks early on at Francois’ graveside, and it’s heartbreaking. Just as affecting and powerful is her later awakening back to the idea that she may be able to love again. It’s a well worn storyline, but Tautou makes it easy to watch.
The script seems a bit unsure as to where its story should focus though and as a result gives what should have been the central romance a bit of a short shrift. Little is known about Markus’ character aside from him being a kind but dorky Swede. It’s obvious why he would fall for Nathalie, but the film leans a bit too heavily on romantic comedy logic to make it work from the other side of the equation. We see the typical roadblocks in their way including friends and co-workers expressing comical disbelief at the pairing, but the script repeatedly returns its dramatic power to her grieving process. It weighs down the romance a bit too frequently for the film to move forward the way it probably should.
Delicacy is a relatively light look at the fragility of life, love and Tautou’s too-thin appendages, and while it lacks the weight of some of her best work the movie remains a satisfying watch. There are some laughs and tears to be found, but the romance between Tautou and her enormous suitor is never given the depth it deserves. It’s sweet enough and you’ll be happy to have watched it unfold, but the impression it leaves will be slight and easily forgotten. Like a bruise from one of Tautou’s tiny, muscle-free punches.