Christophe Honoré, now edging into veteran status with his 12th film, once again steps up to the oche of desire and infidelity. But this peppy, flighty and self-involved film – a hybrid of marital drama, chamber piece, erotic farce and crypto-musical – hovers frustratingly outside the bullseye. Chiara Mastroianni is Maria, the man-eating Parisienne whose husband Richard (played by her former partner, the singer Benjamin Biolay) discovers her serial adultery, prompting her to decamp to the hotel over the road for a long, dark night of the soul.
Maria has to contemplate the meaning of her philandering and decide whether her marriage is worth saving. Hovering between reality and fantasy, she’s subject to multiple visitations: from Richard’s 25-year-old self, her disapproving mother and grandmother, the cougar-ish piano teacher who was her husband’s first love, and the Ghost of Crooners Past – an Aznavour-esque lounge lizard who is the embodiment of her libido.
Honoré initially pitches in with plenty of screwball sophistication. Maria, exiting the apartment of her current student squeeze, admits as a professor of justice she was unable to resist his name: Asdrubal Electorat (“The most erotic name I ever heard”). As the procession of visitors form unlikely alliances, there are other sharp jokes, such as all of Maria’s past lovers – including her cousin – suddenly appearing on her hotel bed. But the knockabout tone is awkwardly cut with a more earnest strain, Maria and Richard’s introspection swelling into verbal epiphanies that seem to threaten to, but never quite burst into song.
Ultimately, all the talk gets wearing. Last year’s La Belle Epoque, a similarly nostalgic film on the same theme, made sure it had a strong commercial hook. Lacking the same strong dramatic outline, On a Magical Night finally feels recitative of past lovelorn material – especially given the classic Paris setting – rather than fully alive. Mastroianni’s promisingly unrepentant performance suffers: by the time the various lovers are busy reconciling in the Rosebud wine bar, it has long been subsumed into a mopey morass. A burst of Barry Manilow’s Could It Be Magic comes too late to supply the fresh air both the film and the characters are yearning for.
• On a Magical Night is available on Curzon Home Cinema from 19 June.
Source: The Guardian