The rules of cinema dictate that if your film opens with lovers wallowing in one another’s happiness, before the first reel is up one of them will be dead. So it goes with Delicacy, whose initial stretch depicts the beamingly wondrous life of young lovers Nathalie (Audrey Tautou) and François (Pio Marmaï) from meet-cute to early marriage. When François goes out for a casual run, it’s no shock it winds up his last. Quite a bit less predictable is that, after three years and a handful of screen minutes of grieving, Nathalie will whimsically shove her tongue in the mouth of a slovenly stranger from Sweden.
We haven’t seen Markus (François Damiens)—a hulking, balding, mouth-breathing, vaguely cloddish sad bachelor with over-prominent teeth, the type who ordinarily wouldn’t even be in the supporting cast of an ostensibly cute Audrey Tautou movie—before the time he arrives in Nathalie’s office, roughly 40 minutes in. His arrival, and his establishment as a permanent fixture in the narrative, is a good indication of Delicacy’s agreeably restless nature, and the way it likes to playfully confound our expectations. We think we have the film, by brothers David and Stéphane Foenkinos (adapted from the former’s bestseller), down pat—that it will be boilerplate bereavement porn—only to have it change focus and even protagonists. Delicacy begins in the head of François, lusting after Nathalie in a café, before shifting to her and then over to someone who wasn’t even established until the film was well under way and into an altogether different groove.
That’s not to say Delicacy reinvents the wheel; in fact the style is often mere window-dressing. The Foenkinos avoid some pat the-hottie-from-Amélie-dates-an-ugly-dude scenario, with Markus gradually revealing himself to be a charmingly aloof eccentric, played with oft-kilter timing by the Belgian Damiens. But they don’t replace this void with anything that’s particularly novel. It’s not lacking in winning details, however: this may be the first movie that shows someone deleting their deceased spouse from their cell phone contacts. The same goes for a scene where Markus gets revved up for romantic pursuit by watching an (unsubtitled) Obama stump speech on TV. Delicacy is more likable than memorable, but likable will do.