Looking for Hortense (4 stars)

Looking for Hortense

Enigmatic comedy of identity and miscommunications set in French society

Intertwining the personal and the political, writer-director Pascal Bonitzer’s enigmatic comedy of identity and miscommunication unfolds in a recognizably ‘real’ Paris of beautifully decorated family apartments, discreet Japanese restaurants and the elegant environs of the Palais Royal. Yet there’s a dream-like quality to this nimble-footed tale, in which coincidences, repetitions and digressions abound, and where various characters appear seemingly magically within scenes.

The protagonist is Damien Auer (Jean-Pierre Bacri), a lecturer in Chinese civilization to business executives who are relocating to the Far East. His theatre director partner Iva (Kristin Scott Thomas), has asked him to help out her sister-in-law’s Balkan friend Zorica, who is being threatened with deportation from France. All Damien has to do is get his father Sébastien (Claude Rich), a senior judge, to pull some strings, but the latter is exceptionally busy and père-et fils enjoy a far from harmonious relationship. And Damien also has to deal with his own anxious son (Marin Orcand Torres), a suicidal literary pal from his regular café, and a mysterious Eastern European woman Aurore (Isabelle Carré), whom he keeps bumping into in his everyday rounds.

Scott Thomas fans will be disappointed to learn that the chain-smoking Iva effectively disappears from the story in the second half of the film; the most involving performance here is that of Bacri, who excels in the role of the rumpled, procrastinating middle-aged man, eventually forced into decisive action. Bonitzer directs with a pleasingly light touch, and amidst all the playful references to classic Russian literature, Asiatic mores and Freudian theories, there’s a serious critique of how, in Sébastien’s words, “repugnant sectarianism” is undermining the capacity of French society to tolerate difference and cherish diversity amongst its citizens.

Looking for Hortense trailer

Cherchez Hortense (Looking for Hortense)

  • 4 stars
  • 2012
  • France
  • 1h 40min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Pascal Bonitzer
  • Written by: Agnès de Sacy, Pascal Bonitzer
  • Cast: Jean-Pierre Bacri, Kristin Scott Thomas, Isabelle Carré
  • UK release: 9 August 2013

A Chinese civilisation specialist (Bacri) and his theatre director wife (Scott Thomas) spice up their mundane lives by inserting themselves into the plight of a Serbian immigrant.