Though handsomely shot (even if too obviously in digital) and rather elegantly edited, actress Fanny Ardant's sophomore directing effort is nevertheless a bewildering disaster, the textbook example of a vanity project that exists purely because Ms. Ardant, writing and directing, wanted to express something in cinematic terms. What that is, though, is anyone's guess: the plot of Cadences Obstinées seems to make little sense, the hodgepodge of languages and actors suggests a filmmaking desire that gets lost in translation. It's a step back from the actress's debut feature Ashes and Blood, retaining her obvious taste for heightened family dramatics and heavy-handed symbolism, here applied to a more restrained tale of a married couple undergoing a crisis.

     Concert cellist Margo (a sleepwalking Asia Argento) stopped performing to devote herself to her marriage to architect Furio (Nuno Lopes), but finds herself lonely after his financial issues force him to take on the renovation on the cheap of a boutique hotel and the couple drifts apart. Hovering around them are a series of characters that take turns being the "third wheel" in the strained relationship between the hot-tempered Furio and the despairing Margo. But nearly everything that might help focus or anchor the story is left unsaid, and most of what is said is difficult to piece together in a plot. As handsomely presented (though somewhat redolent of the cinéma du look of the 1980s) as the psychodrama is, there's little rhyme or reason in its structuring and scripting, resolving itself in a series of disparate episodes that never truly coalesce into a sequential, cause-and-effect whole.

     Though a fine actress and a striking screen presence, as a director Ms. Ardant seems unable to draw any sort of cohesion from a cast that seems to be playing in different films, mostly left to their own devices and having to play archetypes rather than actual human beings. Ms. Argento's Margo is clearly patterned after the director herself (as was Ronit Elkabetz' "mother courage" in Ashes and Blood), but she (and everyone else) is lost in a film that wants desperately to be cinematic but never ejects a forced theatricality, a rigid staginess that makes it stilted and arch - elements that were already present in the director's debut but that come to the fore here through the lack of any sort of engrossing story.

     Cadences Obstinées seems like a condensation of all that can be laughable about serious, adult arthouse drama whn done wrong by someone who is utterly untalented - and yet neither Ms. Ardant nor her collaborators could ever be construed as talentless. Nevertheless, this is a bewilderingly misguided, misshapen piece.

France, Portugal 2013
101 minutes
Cast: Asia Argento, Franco Nero, Nuno Lopes, Ricardo Pereira, Tudor Istodor, Johan Leysen, Gérard Depardieu, Mika
Director and screenwriter Fanny Ardant; cinematographer André Szankowski (colour, widescreen); composer Jean-Michel Bernard; art director Isabel Branco; costumes Inês Mata; editor Julia Gregory; producer Paulo Branco, Alfama Films Production, France 3 Cinéma and Leopardo Filmes
Screened March 12th 2014 (distributor press screening, Medeia Monumental 1, Lisbon)


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