Fans of the 2001 romantic comedy and art-house fave "Amelie" will like "Delicacy" if only for a chance to watch the waifish, quirky and captivating Audrey Tautou.
The camera loves her. There are close-ups of Tautou's big brown eyes and delicate features when her character, Nathalie, falls in love with romantic Francois (Pio Marmai), and after she's suddenly widowed early in the film. Tracking shots follow her walking down narrow streets and office hallways.
But there are other reasons to like the artful and offbeat "Delicacy": It's a sweet love story between two people who, by everything we're used to in filmland, are not supposed to get together.
In the first feature by brothers David and Stephane Foenkinos (David also wrote the film adaptation of his novel of the same name), the shyness and whimsy Tautou projected in "Amelie" is present once again, but there's also a surprising authority she commands as a company team leader.
It's in that job -- we're never told what kind of work she does -- that Nathalie seeks refuge three years after her husband's tragic death, despite having to occasionally fend off verbal overtures from her boss Charles (Bruno Todeschini). And it's there she meets oafish, kindhearted Markus (Francois Damiens), a Swedish underling Nathalie kisses on impulse before banishing it from her mind by the following day.
Markus is smitten, reflected in a humorous sequence where he imagines models swooning over him as the pop soundtrack summons T. Rex's "Bang A Gong (Get it On)."
A female object of desire with a balding, overweight guy with bad teeth doesn't happen often, Markus knows. "It's as if Lichtenstein was walking with the U.S.A.," he tells her.
But Markus doesn't try to be someone other than who he is. And while he doubts it, it's his sense of humor and constancy, and vulnerability, that draws Nathalie to him.
Both proceed cautiously, unsure how to go forward, or even if they should.
In one of the film's best scenes, Charles asks Markus out for a drink to size up his imagined competition. "She's the kind of woman who cancels out all others. She's Yoko Ono," Charles says, citing her role in the Beatles' breakup.
"She allows me to be the best possible version of myself," Markus reveals, both disarming and angering Charles.
This Tautou vehicle is still sprinkled with fairy dust, but it's mixed with gravel, giving the improbable story a weight and substance that carries the film through its closing scene -- and one more radiant close-up of the actress in a French garden.
3 stars (out of 4)
STARRING: Audrey Tautou, Francois Damiens, Bruno Todeschini, Pio Marmai
DIRECTORS: David Foenkinos and Stephane Foenkinos
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes
RATING: Unrated, but PG-13 equivalent for language. In French with English subtitles.
THE LOWDOWN: A woman tries, hesitantly, to enter into a relationship after her husband's premature death.