Conventional wisdom says there are two sides to every story, but François Ozon seems to believe two aren’t enough. Many of his films — “Under the Sand,” “8 Women” and “Swimming Pool” being the most recent — focus on ambiguity and uncertainty, often leaving the audience with tantalizing questions. There would be no sense in watching an Ozon movie by yourself, because then who would you discuss it with afterward?
His latest, “5×2: Five Times Two,” comprises five segments that show a couple’s relationship from their first meeting up through their divorce. But Ozon presents the story in reverse order: The first scene is in the arbitrator’s office, settling the terms of the divorce; the final moments are at an Italian beach resort some three years earlier, the new couple taking a dip in the ocean. This structure lets Ozon toy with our expectations. The husband appears to be an unforgivable jerk at the end of the marriage, but as the film goes on and time moves backward, additional facts emerge that make his wife seem far less sympathetic than we had given her credit for.
He is Gilles (Stephane Freiss), a crass, uncaring man who rapes his wife shortly after divorcing her. She is Marion (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi), with a pretty face and large, sad eyes. In segment no. 4 (i.e., the second one we see), she suffers as Gilles tells dinner guests about an orgy they once attended, where she allowed him to cavort with strangers. In segment no. 3, she is in labor in the hospital while Gilles is casually eating a steak dinner. In segment no. 2, they’re all love and kisses on their wedding night, and then he falls asleep within seconds of arriving at their hotel suits.
It is there, and in the events at the Italian beach resort, that we get a clearer picture of both characters. Gilles is on vacation with his current girlfriend (Geraldine Pailhas), a real henpecking ball-breaker of a woman. (No wonder Gilles went on to be so abusive himself.) Marion is a girl who has an indirect working relationship with Gilles back home, and she happens to wind up at the same resort as him — an extraordinary coincidence, you will agree.
Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi gives a standout performance as Marion. Her expressive face conveys emotions that look like betrayal and sadness but that might be something else, once we consider them in light of all the facts. It’s a tricky role in a tricky film, and it’s handled well. Her character is the one to watch throughout the film, as it is in her demeanor that we learn all the answers — or all the questions, anyway. Since it’s Ozon, a lot of the questions have multiple answers.
B (1 hr., 30 min.; French with subtitles; )