The unfortunate thing about Looking For Hortense is that Kristin Scott Thomas is the best thing about the film. This is unfortunate because whilst she practically fills every scene for the first ten minutes, the film is very quick to put her and her storyline aside to concentrate on Jean-Pierre Bacri’s character, Damien and his boring, uninteresting storyline. Pascal Bonitzer’s comedy drama sets up several storylines around Bacri’s and yet not a single one is captivating enough or acted well enough to make this film watchable – which is a shame, due to it starring Thomas.
Starting with Iva’s (Thomas) brief but soapy storyline, she is a theatre director producing a play in a small, community theatre. There are high expectations around this opening because there appears a playful opportunity for Thomas to talk about her career as an actress. The script could have been filled with metareferences and it would have really asserted the films status as a comedy or satire, which is what it proposes itself to be. Iva smokes like a chimney, which everyone around her finds disgusting and she stays out late, paying very little attention to her family. Whilst coming home one night, one of the young men she works with kisses her and suddenly offers her a way out of her rather dull and repetitive life with Damien and her oddball son, Noe (whom she really doesn’t seem that bothered about). Iva is set up in a rather Edina Monsoon fashion, hedonistic and exuberant. But she rebuts the kiss and walks away; she has her morals. On returning home, the actual story of the film is revealed… and even then, its really rather clutching at straws.
Damien’s father, Sebastien (Claude Rich) is a lawyer, with great expertise in immigration law. Iva’s sister in law has a friend, only know as Zorica that wants to stay in France but she has immigration on her back. In other words, Iva has persuaded Damien to persuade his father to help on the case and keep the unseen Zorica in the country. With only a folder of paperwork, he sets to work his plan. But before he has the opportunity to speak with his father, everyone around him thinks he has already succeeded and because this is meant to be a comedy and because Damien is a rather weak, quiet type, he doesn’t say anything on the contrary. Cue rest of the film trying to get a meeting with his father and help on the case. Sprinkle a slight nod to a possible affair between Damien and a mysterious young blond girl alongside Iva and her male suitor from the start of the film and you have Looking For Hortense.
There are in fact two really rather hysterical scenes, which really do represent intelligent French comedy – if the rest of the film had been done as well, then it probably would have been a stronger film. During the opening scenes, Damien is trying to arrange a meeting with his father via text – the film has already established at this point that the father is a busy man and keeps cancelling and cutting short appointments that his son has made with him. In the first instance, it is really rather sad and comical that he has to make an appointment to see his own father, why not just visit him at home? Bonitzer touches lightly on the lack of relationship between the two but never really explains the issues. Whilst texting his father, he suggests a time and then continues a text conversation where the father has to have the last word; changing the time, if only by 15 minutes. At the same time as this, Iva’s brother and sister in law (newly married) are in a bathroom in Damien and Iva’s house having sex, disturbing Noe. Noe is confused, Damien thinks this is disgusting and Iva can’t see the harm. What Bonitzer does well is set up this mad house family, all with conflicting issuse and points of view; it is just a shame that the film does not recognise it’s strengths.
A second scene, which is really the last strong scene of the film is during a lunch date between Damien and Sebastien. They go to a local Asian restaurant, where the pretty young male waiter is flirting quite openly with Sebastian, who reciprocates. Damien’s confusion at this forces him to ask his father if he is gay. Sebastian answers no and asks whether sleeping with men, means he is gay. He seems completely naive to the conversation and just continues as before. Whilst the film does try it’s hardest to represent the Parisian intellect and culture, it fails to really notice either in a particularly strong way.
Whilst only really Thomas stands out with any acting talent, she isn’t enough to make this film worth a watch. It really is quite boring to see a film, where Bonitzer has tried to pick a microcosm for the Parisian issues of life but ultimately they do nothing to make their lives better. He has picked a simple enough bourgeois family and wants to look at their small issues, but again, it adds nothing. Finally the title, unfortunately means nothing to the film either, except for a brief moment that disappears almost as quickly as it comes. There is a severe lack of any message in the film and if Bonitzer knew what he wanted to communicate, it certainly didn’t happen.