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Zettel Film Reviews » 5 x 2 – beginning at the end – how not where.

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5 x 2 – beginning at the end – how not where.

'5 x 2' - first 1 + 1 = 2, then 2 - 1 = 1, 1,

'5 x 2' - first 1 + 1 = 2, then 2 - 1 = 1, 1,

“5 x 2” – Director Francois Ozon

Sexually, more Catch-22 than 5 x 2: in this film you can have sex when you want it – but not with the person you want; or you can have sex with the person you want – but not when you want it. I’m not quite sure what conclusion we are to draw, as this is a film that leaves many loose ends. That’s good if intentional; but not if it is just a bit lazy. It’s my hunch both explanations apply to 5 x 2, which I enjoyed and found intriguing throughout. I guess Ozon’s point is that the impulse to sex and the desire for love, sometimes make uncomfortable bedfellows, so to speak.

The laziness point applies to the last shown, and therefore the first storyline event in this reverse chronology tale. Compare the dialogue with what happens here and you’ll see what I mean. One could construct a fancy artistic intent but I think it would be over-generous. This last scene, initial step in a relationship, where the couple first get together and take their first ‘swim’ together is the marketing image for the film. This works fine as a still. However, though it may seem odd to criticise an actor’s performance in a long shot, entering the sea with her back to us, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, excellent throughout the preceding 89 minutes of the film, mars this last image with a self-conscious, wriggling, ‘look-at-me-being-sexy’ walk that loses all of the evocative power of the still image. Ozon’s fault in the end. It is a small point but as this is the iconic image of the film it is a pity. The still evokes and resonates, the action doesn’t.

On the intentional artistic front, this film presents us with dilemmas and contradictions throughout. Most important of these is the tension between a clear romantic tone, both visually and in the surging soundtrack of mostly Italian love songs; and the austere reality of how things turn out in the real world. I am breaking no reviewer’s code here as Ozon himself tells you the outcome of his movie in the first few minutes. This is a ‘how-did-we-get-here’ movie not a ‘where-will-this-lead-us’ one. The appeal is in its pathology of a relationship. How did it come to this? This gives 5 x 2 an unusual and effective narrative drive. We want to find out.

Beneath these contradictions, Ozon’s perspective is I think very austere and profoundly sceptical about the possibility of love and the longevity of relationships. As French philosopher Simone Weil once put it: “perhaps love is an attempt to make permanent that which by its very nature is transient.” Very French. Interestingly, in real life, as Joni Mitchell once confessionally remarked, there is no one more disillusioned about love than a failed romantic. The essence of the film is I think this clash between what we desire and what we get; what we hope for from life and what it gives us. It may be that the slightly perverse title, 5 x 2 is meant to imply that this outcome is inevitable. Again perhaps the absolutist view of the failed romantic. The film invites that delicious, wistful, self-indulgent sadness of what might have been. Perhaps Ozon is saying that we cope with this austerity of the real world through seeing our lives as a story, or even more perhaps – as a film. In some ways 5 x 2 also strikes me as rather Catholic in moral tone; with sin and especially lust, destroying peace of mind and the happiness of stable relationships.

Thought and discussion-provoking; always interesting, it is best seen I think with a good friend and/or partner. It raises lots of issues, not least attitudes to the early bedroom scene between the newly-divorceds. This one is out of the ordinary run of things and well worth a look. (Irrelevantly, British viewers may share my slight distraction by Stephane Freiss’s unbearded resemblance to a young Tony Blair!)

(March 2005)

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