Le Divorce

James Ivory saunters into the 21st century. In Paris

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OPENS SEPTEMBER 19, CERT TBC, 115 MINS

An Altmanesque ensemble (and feel) enliven an atypical Merchant-Ivory production. Based on a novel by Diane Johnson, it’s an Americans-abroad fable that sets modern US and French mores on a collision course. Among a fine cast, Naomi Watts, Kate Hudson, Matthew Modine and Glenn Close are especially captivating.

Californian Isabel (Hudson) travels to Paris to visit pregnant sister Roxanne (a luminous Watts), whose French husband has walked out on her. “Le divorce” looms, with family fights and money disputes. Isabel herself falls for a Frenchman (the suave Thierry Lhermitte), the two clans battle over a priceless painting, and fret about Modine, a loose cannon prone to rage. The film’s climax atop the Eiffel Tower recalls The Third Man, but up till then it’s about small emotions writ large, cultural gaps magnified for comedy and pathos. Stephen Fry, Stockard Channing and Leslie Caron offer support. If you can stomach the way vast wealth is taken as standard, it’s sumptuously enjoyable.

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