Thursday 2 October 2008

Film Review: Notre Univers Impitoyable (2008)

Two lawyers on the fast-track to success at a private law-firm, Margot and Victor, work as a team and are also a loving couple. When a senior partner drops dead and creates an opening for a new senior position, only one out of Margot and Victor will get the promotion, and the other will have to settle for a supporting role.

Notre Univers Impitoyable (meekly titled What If? in English) cleverly explores both possible scenarios: Margot as the new senior partner, breaking down gender barriers and becoming the new glamour star of the firm, while Victor labours in her shadow. Or Victor as the hard-driving new senior partner, with Margot relegated to serving coffee and caring for the children.

The film consists of inter-cut scenes that alternate between the two possible realities. There are parallels and contrasts between the two, and director Lea Fazer has fun with the interplay. She effectively and seamlessly introduces the switches between the two stories by embedding "what if" questions into the script, as cues for the role reversal scenes that follow. In both story lines, the couple's relationship is rocked by infidelity, feelings of neglect, family versus career conflicts, and questions about true values. A strong common theme emerges between the two stories, addressing the impact on a relationship that is thrown out of a comfortable balance.

Alice Taglioni as Margot and Jocelyn Quivrin as Victor (a real-life couple) are both excellent. They have an obvious chemistry together, and they establish a high degree of empathy for their characters in both story lines. Taglioni and Quivrin effortlessly pull-off three roles, depending on the scene: equals, superiors and subordinates. The film is enriched with many well-rounded supporting characters: Thierry Lhermitte as one of the principles of the firm, who makes the decision about who gets the promotion and then manipulates the consequences to his advantage; Pascale Arbillot as Margot's recently-dumped sister; Scali Delpeyrat as another lawyer at the firm; and Julie Ferrier as the law firm's resident paralegal / mistress.

The film is brisk, helped along by a catchy music score and clever but not pretentious camerawork. An entertaining, thoughtful and well-executed film.