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.