An Intriguing Look Back At Love

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 1, 2005

"5X2" IS THE STORY, told in five chapters, of the unraveling of a marriage. Or, I should say, of its raveling, since the movie begins in the offices of a chilly divorce lawyer and works its way backward, ending with the couple first getting together on a sun-drenched beach in Italy. In between, we see glimpses of Gilles (Stephane Freiss) and Marion's (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) life together: their wedding night, the birth of their son and a seemingly innocuous but emotionally fraught dinner party with Gilles's brother Mathieu (Marc Ruchmann). It's fascinating, like watching the collapse of a building in reverse.

Twice in the film, when the words "I love you" are spoken -- first by Gilles and later by Marion -- it is after behavior on the part of each protagonist that could only, and with great understatement, be called atrocious. And yet, at the beginning, their happiness, and their mutual attraction, seems very, very real.

Directed by French filmmaker Francois ("Swimming Pool") Ozon, who co-wrote the intelligent screenplay with Emmanuele Bernheim, "5x2" plays a little like a mystery, the central question of which is not whodunit but why. As their history comes out, it is clear that neither Gilles nor Marion are wholly at fault but that each bears blame for contributing to the broken union. Consider this though: The warning signs are there on their wedding night. (One might even argue that clues of trouble ahead lay in their initial meeting, at which point Gilles was still involved with another girlfriend, played by Geraldine Pailhas, who as it turns out, is justifiably jealous of Marion.)

One reading, then, of Ozon's film is that all love is doomed and that, like the characters in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," all of us would know this if only we could see the road ahead of us as plainly as the one we have just traveled.

A second, equally plausible take on the film is less pessimistic: that love's end does not negate its existence or its rewards. Even though, as Ozon demonstrates, it is only hindsight that is 20/20, we can't help but look forward, with hopeful eyes, to the possibility of romance and togetherness.

"Do you want to try again?" asks Gilles, at the end of Chapter 1, as Marion walks out the door without answering. In a way, his hoping against hope is sad and pathetic. Yet in another way, it's what makes us human.

5X2 (R, 87 minutes) -- Contains sex scenes, nudity, discussion of sexuality, drug use and obscenity. In French with subtitles. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.

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