On a Magical Night

 

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A very novel romantic comedy from France.

 
On a Magical Night

Camille Cottin, Vincent Lacoste and Chiara Mastroianni 

 

For once we have a French film which has been given an invented English title that strikes a more distinctive note than the original. Christophe Honoré's latest work was made under the title Chambre 212 which reveals nothing, but now that it reaches us as On a Magical Night we are at least given notice that one night is central to it and that what takes place then will be special in some way. Whether or not you actually find the film magical, it does indeed take place within twenty-four hours and places the events of the night at its centre. This is when Maria (Chiara Mastroianni), after more than twenty years of marriage to the now 40-year-old Richard Warrimer (Benjamin Biolay), walks out after an argument and takes a room for the night in the hotel opposite the couple's apartment.

 

In a traditional French comedy, the argument would be about the husband's infidelities, but here it is he who confronts his wife about an affair of hers which she regards as insignificant. However, if that's a novelty, far more out of the ordinary is what follows since as the writer here Honoré chooses to abandon realism even of an exaggerated kind in order to show Maria being visited in her hotel room by a series of imagined figures. Indeed, while some have referred to On a Magical Night as a sex farce, it has also been widely compared with A Christmas Carol since in the novel Scrooge is famously confronted by spirits over the course of one night. Here, however, the figures who appear to Maria include Richard himself but now at the age of twenty or so which is what he was when they first fell in love (Vincent Lacoste), the piano teacher Irène Haffner (Camille Cottin) with whom Richard had been besotted as a young teenager and an entirely imaginary representative of Richard's will and desire. The latter is described only as La Volonté (Stéphane Roger) and he is rather oddly portrayed as being reminiscent of the late Charles Aznavour. 

 

Having often had doubts about Honoré's works, especially the early ones, I had thought that this odd-sounding piece would not appeal to me. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find so much if it working so well. Honoré's direction ensures that the strange narrative is never confusing and as she gets older Chiara Mastroianni seems to embody an ever more telling screen presence reminiscent of her mother, Catherine Deneuve. The film doesn't offer the big laughs that you might expect from a good sex farce, but it functions very well as a fantastical tale of a particularly French kind.  It is a work that plays with past and present to elaborate ideas about the nature of love, the differing desires that drive men and women and, just as significantly, the changes in outlook of both sexes when considered first in youth and then in middle age. Attitudes to parenthood at different ages come into it too. Forget the Dickens comparison for the nearest thing to this is another French film, 2019's La Belle Époque made by Nicolas Bedos which also played around with time to look at changes in a couple's relationship. That was a film which did not quite fulfil its potential enjoyable though it was. Even more is that the case here when the rewarding ideas and viewpoints thrown up fade away for much of the last third (typical of this are scenes shared by the younger and older Richard which get one nowhere). In the same way a use of Barry Manilow's song 'Could It Be Magic' heard at the close fails to find the emotion required to provide an effective climax. Two-thirds of On a Magical Night is pleasurably unusual and different but thereafter it loses its way.

 

Original title: Chambre 212.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Chiara Mastroianni, Benjamin Biolay, Vincent Lacoste, Camille Cottin, Carole Bouquet, Stéphane Roger, Harrison Arevalo, Kolia Abitebul, Marie-Christine Adam, Claire Johnston.

 

Dir Christophe Honoré, Pro Serge Hayat, Philippe Martin and David Thion, Screenplay Christophe Honoré, Ph Rémy Chevrin, Pro Des Stéphane Taillasson, Ed Chantal Hymans, Costumes Olivier Bériot.

 

Les Films Pelléas/Bidibul Productions/Scope Pictures/France 2 Cinéma/Canal+/Ciné+-Curzon.
86 mins. France/Belgium/Luxembourg. 2019. Rel: 19 June 2020. Available on Curzon Home Cinema. No Cert.