Cast: Jean-Pierre Bacri, Kristin Scott Thomas, Isabelle Carre, Marin Orcand Tourres, Claude Rich
Running time: 97 mins
The lowdown: Intelligent, elegant, unfussy drama of the kind that comes so easily to our French cousins, Looking for Hortense will delight those wanting something for the mind to chew over. Jean-Pierre Bacri is Damien, an Asian studies professor having trouble with his father, son and wife, Iva, played in suitably brittle form by Kristin Scott Thomas. Salvation of some kind seems to come from Isabelle Carré’s bookstore assistant, but nothing runs smoothly in this affecting Parisian gem.
The full verdict: Jean-Pierre Bacri gives a pitch perfect performance as an academic who understands the cultural minutiae of the Orient, but cannot fathom his own loved ones.
Burdened with persuading his judge father (the splendidly unctuous Claude Rich) to use his influence so an Eastern European immigrant can remain in France, Bacri’s Damien nimbly shifts between the comedy of frustration and genuinely moving melodrama.
Success with his father would elevate Damien in his wife’s eyes and may even rekindle a spark in their marriage.
Scott Thomas is on typical top form as Damien’s theatre director spouse Iva, rapidly losing interest in her husband and basically estranged from their acerbic adolescent son Noe (the witheringly droll Marin Orcand Tourrès).
An understated romantic subplot between Damien and Carre’s Aurore allows for a second act twist, while comic interludes involving a suicidal pal and a sexual encounter with a Japanese waiter balance the darker story turns.
Sixty-something director Bonitzer made a minor splash with 2003’s Small Cuts, also starring Scott Thomas. Here’s hoping for more well-judged drama before he hangs up the viewfinder.