Toronto
2 min

Untraditional relationships: why must they end?

Strange responses in Dry Cleaning

QUEEN OF THE NIGHT. You'll succumb to Loic's (Stanislas Merhar) performance, too. Credit: Xtra files.

In Dry Cleaning, a new French film from Anne Fontaine, Nicole and Jean-Marie’s life is entirely mundane. They run a fairly successful dry cleaning shop in a small, characterless city. They have a good reputation and are very much in love with each other – even if the relationship is a little stagnated.



A haphazard stop into a local bar changes everything. The straight couple are mesmerized by the Queens Of The Night – a brother-sister act who perform a sexually ambiguous, cross-dressing show.



When the sister, Marilyn, disappears with her new man, the handsome, young Loic (an award winning performance by newcomer Stanislas Merhar) spends the night in the couple’s hotel room and then eventually their spare bedroom back home.



Loic’s arrival radically changes their relationship. The younger Nicole (Miou Miou) takes immediately to her new bohemian life – up and dancing at the club, exploring her physical attraction to Loic in the secrecy of the shop’s basement.



But the real turmoil is within her tightly wound husband Jean-Marie (Charles Berling) as he deals with his internal homophobia, his attraction to Loic and his deep desire to find happiness with his wife. When his meddlesome mother points out the obvious neighbourhood scandal – he silences her. His wife is happy again like when they were first married – and that’ what’s important.



It is a strange response – entirely removed from the traditional jealousy. Jean-Marie’s complex twists of logic and rationalizations play just barely visible behind his business-like stare and pencil mustache.



Dry Cleaning is far from a great movie. Mathilde Seigner as Loic’s sister is dreadful. Audience extras in the bar scenes are unnaturally focused and enthusiastic in response to the Queens Of The Night (at one point they begin dancing along like some queer Ziegfield Follies).



And there’s that damn doom-and-gloom conclusion. As the trio’s relationship builds there is this horror film bass rumble soundtrack that is ceaseless. Together with lines like: “I’m frightened of getting too fond of you,” and “I hope I don’t mess you two up,” the foreshadowing gets a little thick.



Breaking the taboo of extramarital sex still seems to damn a character to a desperate end – even in French film. As her husband begins to push Loic out, Nicole asks: “Why must it end, why?” I was left wondering the same question. Is there still no place in films for such untraditional relationships to survive?



Even with these minor complaints, Dry Cleaning is head and shoulders above the much watched Stanley Kubrick handling of similar material in Eyes Wide Shut. This is a tensely crafted film.



Dry Cleaning (in French, with English subtitles) is playing at: the Revue (400 Roncesvalles Ave) Thu, Oct 7 at 7pm; the Music Hall (147 Danforth) Fri, Oct 8-11 at 7pm; the Paradise (1006 Bloor St W) Tue, Oct 12-14 at 7pm. Call 690-2600.