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Cast: Fanny Ardent, Emmanuelle Beart, Gerard Depardieu
Nathalie is the name a Parisian prostitute assumes for a special mission or "private investigation." She is engaged in this unusual and secretive task by a professional, upper-middle-class wife who fears that her husband is unfaithful to her. Nathalie has to seduce the clueless husband and regularly report all details of her relationship with him, including his most intimate sexual preferences in bed. Nathalie is stunning, charming, and cunning. Can Nathalie and her reports to the mistrustful wife be trusted? Is the middle aged husband indeed unfaithful?
The premise is hard to believe, however the sincerity and strong performances from the talented cast help to provide a gripping psychological romance thriller with some interesting twists along the way. In some reviews they praise the film for not being the typical sex movie that is seen in a lot of French cinema. That’s true to a certain degree, however here we get a sexy movie that is really without the sex.
Rather than use sex to drive the film, which it does to some extent, we a get psychological mind twister about the questionable relationship between Catherine (Ardent) and Nathalie (Depardieu). Ardent and Depardieu do a solid job conveying their personal interest in the situation they bring themselves in but maintain an ambiguous sexual desire for each other. Their scenes together play out naturally and the actor’s sincerity and understanding of their character create a believable story despite the premise being rather silly.
Catherine, a successful working woman with a supposedly solid marriage, believes her husband is cheating on her. So, for whatever reason, she hires an attractive prostitute, Nathalie, to entice him, than report back. But when Nathalie reveals that the two had sex, Catherine gets upset, only to later questions what exactly she is upset about. Is it that her husband cheated on her, or is she attracted to Nathalie?
Over the course of the film Catherine and Nathalie develop a bond. The film is not about the relationship between Bernard and Catherine but rather the latter and Nathalie. Eventually Bernard suspects his wife is cheating on him when she starts spending more time away from home. It’s an interesting role reversal which adds a new twist to the story. But at the same time it’s not entirely surprising, and that hurts the film because you can see certain twists coming.
From their first meeting there is obviously some sexual interests between them and develops into something stronger over the course of the film. But we know where that’s headed so there’s no element of surprise. What makes it enjoyable, if anything watchable is performances from both actresses and the suggestive dialogue they deliver perfectly. Much of the sexual innuendos come from the dialogue. You get more sex out of those few lines then you do from the entire film, which is fine.
If Fontaine went the typical route and used sex, particularly in scenes the two leading ladies are in, then the quality in the performances and the characters themselves, who develop into complex well rounded people, would suffer. The film works because the psychological mind twists provide some entertaining and gripping scenes, more than any sexual content could do. We see how both Catherine and Nathalie mess with the other’s emotions but conceal their desire for one another. It’s great to watch.
If you can get passed the senseless premise, you’ll enjoy the film. It takes time to get into however since much of it is simply talking. But the more the story unfolds, the more drawn in you become, and suddenly you forget about the initial set up. It’s far more interesting to see if Catherine and Nathalie will act of their desires or simply continue to mess with each other’s minds, which they too find enticing. A psychological thriller with a romantic twist, Nathalie is not a great film but it has strong performances supported by sexy dialogue and a predictable yet entertaining twist to leave you interested to the end.