‘On a Magical Night’ Review: Ghosts of Lovers Past and Present

‘On a Magical Night’ Review: Ghosts of Lovers Past and Present

‘On a Magical Night’ Review: Ghosts of Lovers Past and Present

‘On a Magical Night’ Review: Ghosts of Lovers Past and Present

The original title of this French film, “Chambre 212,” is also the hotel room its lead character, Maria, checks into after an argument with her husband, who’s discovered profanely erotic texts from a student with whom she’s been carrying on. Maria, played with exemplary candor and feistiness by Chiara Mastroianni, is a woman who, in early middle age, clearly feels like stirring the pot.

In the film’s opening scene, she’s caught in flagrante delicto with that student, by the guy’s fiancée. After initially shielding herself with a flimsy dorm-room curtain, she emerges, fully nude, and explains, with an air of superiority, that she simply could not resist taking on a lover with the name Asdrubal Electorat.

So Maria is feeling liberated and pretty cavalier about her infidelity. She could probably compel her vexed husband, Richard (Benjamin Biolay, who is Mastroianni’s real-life ex-husband), to vacate their apartment. But she leaves instead.

The English-language title of this comedy, written and directed by Christophe Honoré, tips its fantasy-aspect hand a little too much. Once checked in at the hotel, Maria is visited by the 20-something-year-old incarnation of Richard (Vincent Lacoste). He’s fresher, smoother, more sexed up than today’s Richard — and also, in his way, a bit priggish. But at least Maria can enjoy some acrobatic lovemaking with him in between his pouty protestations.

Also visiting the hotel room will be Richard’s boyhood piano teacher, who seduced the fellow when he was younger. Then there’s Maria’s mother. And every guy with whom Maria cheated on Richard during their marriage. Not to mention the apparent ghost of the beloved French singer Charles Aznavour (Stéphane Roger), who introduces himself as Maria’s “will.”

This sounds like more of a romp than it actually is. Honoré, whose last picture was the superb, moving romantic drama “Sorry Angel,” certainly does right by Mastroianni, a frequent collaborator. The character they’ve constructed is funny, engaging and a bit maddening. But despite the fantastic premise and the ostensibly comedic bits of business Honoré strews throughout (pay attention to the changing marquee of the cinema on the street where both Maria’s apartment and the hotel are), the movie’s treatment of its themes still too often lists toward a near-ponderous solemnity. When Carole Bouquet turns up during the final half-hour, though, her mere presence palpably lifts the movie’s mood. It’s most welcome.

On a Magical Night

Not rated. In French, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 26 minutes. Watch on virtual cinemas.


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