There’s something ever-so-French about the idea of a fractured couple debating “what might have been” with a former lover. So grown up!
And widening that argument to include every lover the philandering member of the couple has had? Her mother? Grandmother?
Hashing out the past, and bedding, the 25 year-old version of her husband? Interrupted by the French love balladeer Charles Aznavour?
That’s as French as it gets. That could only happen “On a Magical Night.”
Christophe Honoré, who did the romantic musical “Beloved,” rejoins his muse Chiara Mastroianni for this romantic fantasy/sex farce, a tale that is by turns surreal and ultra-real, giddy and wistful, melancholy and just plain goofy.
We meet Maria (Mastroianni) when she unabashedly stumbles out of the closet. Her student/lover (Harrison Arevalo) is billing and cooing with his girlfriend, trying to get her out the door after she interrupted Maria and Asdrubal Electorat in flagrante delicto.
She’s naked, dressing and babbling on about how inane the two of them are as a couple (to their faces), that she should know better than “dating my students.” But hey — she teaches law, and his name is ELECTORAT. How could she not jump at that chance?
50ish Maria ogles younger men all the way though Paris on her walk home. She takes a cover-my-tracks shower and drones on about her day, the law, blah blah blah. But husband Richard (Benjamin Biolay), who misses the first clues, finally opens her beeping phone and finds the incriminating texts.
He isn’t so much put-out as deflated, and her “It’s nothing to get excited about” and “We’ve been like siblings (not husband and wife) for YEARS” dismissals doesn’t help.
As he holes up in another room with just a “We need to think it over” (in French with English subtitles), she decides “I want to be alone.”
She throws a few things in a bag, slips out and checks into a hotel — right across the street from their flat. It’s in “Room 212” (the title of this when it came out in France) that the weirdness goes down.
Spying on Richard through the window, she wonders what went wrong. And that’s when 25 year-old Richard (Vincent Lacoste) drops in and the REAL debate begins.
He is, she declares, “My perfect husband.” How many years have we been married, then? “Over 20.” “Twenty-five” is the correct answer. And if he was “perfect,” why’d she cheat? And how often?
Doors open and “Room 212” expands into some “Inception” nightmare, as Maria drops a name or two — her side-pieces. And then her mother shows up and drops dozens more.
The guys — all young — start dropping in. Or checking out.
There’s time to have sex with the younger version of Richard, and plenty of time to consider how life might have been better for him had he stayed with his first love and turned down Maria’s proposal, way back when.
He used to go on about “Irène.” Ok, let’s get HER into “Room 212.” And hell’s bells, she turns out to have been young YOUNG Richard’s piano teacher (Camille Cottin), the one who “made him the man he is” — cultured and bookish and musical — only to lose him to Maria.
While both women indulge in a taste for younger man-skin, Irène crossed lines that only a French comedy would deem nothing to raise an eyebrow about. She taught the boy piano and romance in her home, starting when he was 14, taking his lessons half naked at the keyboard.
Irène would love to have Richard back, and would REALLY love to have had the lives she thought they’d have together — children included. Maria isn’t into kids.
A child turns up when Irène crosses the street and tries to restart her affair (as she was then) with now-50ish Richard.
And then Maria’s “Will” shows up, “the one that guides you.” That would be the beloved crooner Aznavour, dapperly played here in a leopard-skin smoking jacket by Stéphane Roger.
“I am not Pinocchio’s cricket,” he waffles. But “He’s your husband, and you prefer him at 25, not 50.”
Syruppy ballads, often in English, waft up on the soundtrack as Richard philosophizes “Love is always but a memory” to Irène and Maria tries to rationalize her way out of her faithlessness. The film takes its title from a Barry Manilow tune that makes an appearance here.
“Wounds” and “blows” are remembered and weighed, a wise observation of how we break down our breakups in our mind. Set this on a snowy winter’s night to fortify that mood.
And then deal with the chaos of having every lover (at the age they were then) confront you over why you didn’t say you were married, why you keep bedding students and why you forgot this one or that one who complains “I tend to get lost in threesomes.”
A toddler is picked up and becomes an obvious plastic doll, doors slam and Aznavour tries to facilitate without judging (not really).
It sounds giddier than it is, but there’s a lot of fun mixed in with the somber assessments of a failed relationship. In the end, it’s too much to juggle or do justice to, and “On a Magical Night” is never quite “could this be the magic at last.”
Then again, maybe you have to be a certain age to get what Honoré’s message is and appreciate the little profundities mixed with the sight gags and jokes. Maybe I am.
MPAA Rating: unrated, a moment of violence, sex, nudity
Cast: Chiara Mastroianni, Benjamin Biolay, Camille Cottin , Vincent Lacoste, Harrison Arevalo, Stéphane Roger and Carole Bouquet
Credits: Written and directed by Christophe Honoré. A Strand release.
Running time: 1:26