"Soupcon" is the latest sprinkling of triviality from Jean-Charles Tacchella, persisting in his insouciant reduction of the human race, or its French bourgeois segment at any rate, to a collection of frisky little pets.
Repeated exposure to this indulgently darling perception of middle-class manners and mores -- displayed with steeply declining charm in "Cousin, Cousine," "Blue Country" and now "Soupcon" -- can produce cloying sensations. So Proceed With Caution to the Outer Circle.
The premise of "Soupcon" could lead in revealing humorous directions: After 25 years of marriage, Jean Carmet and Marie Dubois have wearied of each other. With facetious implausibility, their decision to separate is announced at the 25th wedding anniversary party hosted by their grown children.
Two of the children, a son and daughter, are also married. They react to the news of their parents' split with disapproval and astonishment, respectively. As the plot unwinds in its busily inconsequential way, they reappear to create token complications: The son and his wife arrange an abortive reconciliation dinner; the daughter and her husband have a spat soon after the birth of their first child.
The film is largely preoccupied with the dating habits of the separated couple and calculated to reach the conclusion that they emerge as a more devoted pair by virtue of separating. The curse of Tacchella's darting, casual style is that it seems incapable of sustaining or building upon a single character, episode or conflict.
Tacchella's scenarios are boudoir farces complacently updated. Their creeping triviality is especially disappointing in view of his facility as a filmmaker. A Tacchella movie looks attractive: The imagery is bright and airy, the cutting crisp, the atmosphere convivial. He shares the ability of compatriots like Philippe de Broaca, Jean-Luc Godard and Bertrand Blier to finesse much of the customary tedium of exposition. Adept at cinematic shorthand, they can establish scenes quickly and then shift scenes with a minimum of apparent effort. But Tacchella's fleeting scenes lack a dramatic or social vision that might confer both significance and continuity on superficial impressions.
For example, "Soupcon" contains an amusing episode in which Carmet abandons imminent sexual gratification with a young woman who has invited him to her room in favor of a serendipitous dinner invitation. Moments before hopping into bed, he is attracted to an open window and watches a woman preparing a roast duck behind the open kitchen window of an apartment across the alley. He strikes up a conversation and can't resist an eventual offer to come over and share the feast with the cook and the man of the house, presumably her husband. The prospective bed partner is left to cool her heels as Carmet departs by asking, "Wait for me, okay?"
Definitely not. Until this dislikable kicker, the situation seems irresistible. Linking delight in sex and delight in food is one of Tacchella's comic specialties, and the idea of a potentially great meal transcending sex has undeniable appeal, in part because it confirms nearly universal priorities.
But the appeal shouldn't be sexually alienating in this context. What prevents Carmet and the girl from joining the friendly couple across the way? Or a follow-up sequence in which we see the diners savoring that succulent duck?
Tacchella exploits this dandy situation for throwaway facetiousness. Ultimately, the accumulation of such throwaways makes his pictures seem shallow and expendable.