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The 2 in François Ozon's "5x2" are Marion (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) and Gilles (Stéphane Freiss), a French couple whose unhappy marriage is chronicled backward through five episodes, starting with their divorce and ending with their first encounter at an Italian seaside resort.

The relationship, as glimpsed in these partial, pointed vignettes, is a chronicle of failed connections and miscommunication (with reference to relevant articles from the matrimonial sections of the French Civil Code). These two never seem to want the same thing at the right time. They have sex, unhappily, after their divorce papers are signed, but not after their wedding vows have been exchanged - at least not with each other - and their desires, erotic and otherwise, seem, from finish to start, always to be at cross-purposes.

Mr. Ozon, whose recent films include "Swimming Pool," "8 Femmes" and "Under the Sand," has an evident fondness for combining earnest melodrama with self-conscious gimmickry. After "Memento" and "Irréversible," reverse chronology is not exactly a novelty, but it does make some dramatic sense in this case.

Told in the usual sequence, the story of Gilles and Marion would be a banal bell curve of infatuation, bliss, boredom, regret and recrimination. As it is, "5x2" does not quite make the case that Gilles and Marion are entirely worth our interest, let alone our sympathy, but the reversal of narrative order gives their ordinary moments together a faint aura of mystery, as Mr. Ozon teases us with the conceit that it will all make sense in the end - or rather, the beginning.

Of course, love is not a puzzle that can easily be solved, and the real ingenuity of "5x2" lies in Mr. Ozon's mastery of emotional shorthand. He tells us very little about the characters and seems to have encouraged Ms. Bruni-Tedeschi and Mr. Freiss not to be too obvious or revealing. In their private moments as well as when there are other people around, Gilles and Marion display both easy married-couple intimacy and the guarded, tentative manner of people who do not quite trust each other. (Not, as it turns out, that they should.) Their furtive glances and hesitations are the sand in the gears of their shared life, which seems to have ended by wearing down gradually.

Or so we assume. Gilles and Marion may not know each other very well, but we hardly know them at all. We witness, in 90 minutes, a handful of discontinuous scenes.

First there is the somber ceremony at a magistrate's office (and that unpleasant encounter in a hotel room afterward), followed (or preceded, some months or years earlier) by a casual dinner with Gilles's gay brother during which the topic of fidelity is uncomfortably broached. Then Marion goes into labor, while Gilles finds himself unable to attend the birth of his son (or to bear the company of his in-laws). Then the wedding night, enlivened by the improbable emergence of a studly American out of the forest in the middle of the night, and finally the first meeting, when Marion and Gilles, vague acquaintances from work, cross paths in Italy, where Gilles has come with his longtime (soon-to-be-ex-) girlfriend, Valérie (Géraldine Pailhas).

How and why Marion and Gilles travel from one point to another remain enigmas, which may be the only thing that saves them from being crushingly ordinary. Mr. Ozon views their behavior with detachment that occasionally warms toward compassion, though more for Marion than for her husband.

Mr. Freiss has a sharp, slightly vulpine face, which grows more clean-shaven as the movie progresses, even as Gilles's essential egoism, barbed with a hint of sadistic coldness, remains constant. Ms. Bruno-Tedeschi's features are more expressive, and by the end it becomes clear that Marion's fatigue in the early scenes is really deep disappointment. But her passivity also frustrates the development of any real sympathy, and when "5x2" is over, it feels more like a story you've heard about distant acquaintances than like something you've witnessed or lived through.

Whatever happened to Gilles and Marion? They split up? Oh, that's too bad. Let's go see a movie.
Date Added: 10/16/2012 by Peprika
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