5 x 2: Five Times Two, Cinq fois deux, Five Times Two
Running Time: 90 minutes
US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15
This will probably be remembered, though perhaps not always fondly, as the year of the sprawling Hollywood biopic (The Aviator, Beyond the Sea, Alexander, Ray, Kinsey), but it is also the year of the relationship. Leaving aside the usual run of frothy rom coms, there have been some far more, er, penetrating anatomisations of the congresses, lonelinesses, betrayals, and rifts that consitute the adult couple. If ‘We Don’t Live Here Anymore’ examines the awkward middle period of relationships and Closer focusses on their beginnings and ends, while 9 Songs reduces them to a few heightened moments of intimacy structured around musical interludes, then François Ozon’s ‘5 x 2’ combines all of these features by presenting five brief but critical episodes in the evolution of a relationship, and punctuating each with sentimental Italian love songs – and it distinguishes itself from each of these films by running its events in reverse chronological order.
After signing their divorce papers, Gilles (Stéphane Freiss) and Marion (Valéria Bruni-Tedeschi) release their feelings of bitterness and disappointment through one last sexual encounter. When conversation at a dinner party turns to infidelity, Gilles claims once to have participated in an orgy with Marion’s connivance. In a moment of faint-hearted doubt that soon stretches into hours, Gilles hesitates to visit Marion and his new-born son in hospital. On their wedding night, Gilles falls asleep prematurely, driving Marion to seek comfort in a stranger’s arms. Gilles is holidaying (and bickering) with his long-term girlfriend when Marion bumps into him, and as one relationship sinks the other begins to swim.
It would be difficult to fault ‘5 x 2’ for any of its parts. The acting is superbly nuanced, the dialogue believable and crisp, and each episode is like an artful short film, conveying with economic lucidity the pressures and tensions that lead to a relationship’s collapse. Yet it is Ozon’s decision to tell the story back to front that represents the film most conspicuous, and also its most disappointing, feature. In Christopher Nolan’s ‘Memento’ or Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible, the reverse chronology is so integral that its removal would dismantle the whole point of the film – whereas if a conventional chronology were restored to ‘5 x 2’, the logic of its narrative and its overall dramatic impact would remain essentially unchanged, so that the unnatural order seems little more than an arbitrary gimmick. Certainly the plot is subtle and elliptical, but this owes less to the reverse chronology than to the vast leaps in time from one episode to the next, forcing the viewer to imagine what has passed in between – something that would be just as effective in any order.
The reverse chronology, however, does come into its own in the very final scene – a long shot of Marion and Gilles heading off together into the sunset. This closural cliché, familiar from romantic cinema, normally implies a fairytale ending – but in ‘5 x 2’ we know from everything that has preceded that there will be no ‘happily ever after’. Surely, though, it is hardly groundbreaking news to suggest that relationships which start off sweet can turn sour and in fact ‘5 x 2’ has already clearly established this in its opening three minutes.
It's Got: Superb acting; compact narratives.
It Needs: To lose the reverse chronology - or to find a reason for having it.
Alternatives:9 Songs, Closer, Irréversible, Memento, Scenes of Married Life, We Dont Live Here Anymore
Despite some nuanced performances, '5 x 2' gets relationships the wrong way round.