Looking For Hortense POsterSome of the most enjoyable movies to have come out of Europe in the past couple of years have been French romantic comedies (From-coms), with the likes of Delicacy, Populaire and Heartbreaker illuminating our screens, with their effortless charm and whimsicality. Now we can add another to our collection, as director Pascal Bonitzer reunites with British actress Kristin Scott Thomas in his latest picture Looking for Hortense.

We delve into the troubling life of Damien (Jean-Pierre Bacri), who is a professor of Japanese civilisation by day, and a long suffering husband of Iva (Scott Thomas) by night. As the latter’s romantic affair causes rifts between their marriage and they start arguing incessantly in front of their young son, Damien has his head turned by the beautiful illegal immigrant Aurore (Isabelle Carré). With expulsion from France looming, Damien has the power to keep his new friend in the country, as his father Sébastien (Claude Rich) is an influential and powerful state counsellor. Problem is, the pair are not particularly fond of each other.

Looking for Hortense is effectively a series of varying individual relationships between two people, revolving around Damien as the common denominator. Be that between himself and his wife, his father or with Aurore, each story lends itself to the next, as they all carry equal footing in regards to the importance of the overall narrative. Though mixing various themes between the fledging romance, and the tumultuous father and son dynamic – neither feel compromised at the others expense, and Bonitzer must be commended as a result. Meanwhile, you care for each and every story, and much of this is down to the endearing and sympathetic nature to our lead. He is instantly portrayed as a victim, as we learn of his wife’s affair before we’ve even been introduced to him, so a fragility is formed instantaneously, as the audience feel almost guilty for knowing of this affair before he does.

The picture is played out in a somewhat overstated fashion for deliberate dramatic effect, however it never deviates too far away from naturalism – particularly in the way Damien’s son responds to his parents arguing by being a nuisance of his own, desperately seeking attention. In what proves to be a well-crafted and brilliantly judged piece of cinema, Bonitzer ensures that he remains faithful to this authentic family dynamic – despite the heightened reality – allowing the viewer to find an emotional investment in the scenario. That said, such an approach inevitably means that at points we can’t escape melodrama.

With a sharp and witty screenplay, Looking for Hortense is a picture that manages to be unique of its own right, while faithfully abiding by the notions of the romantic comedy, staying within the boundaries and using conventionality to its advantage. In the meantime, it’s always pleasing to see elderly parents with important, plot affecting roles – something we see so often in French cinema, and would no doubt be gratefully received on a more consistent basis in Hollywood.