Once more Francois Ozon demonstrates his ability to create detailed, intriguing and believable female characters in the odd backwards drama 5×2. Unfortunately what is also demonstrated is his tendency to create sketchy, two-dimensional men. The character of Gilles (Stephane Freiss) is practically a cardboard cut-out of an insensitive lover, overshadowed not only by his wife but also by two females who only appear in one section each.
The film is sombre and downbeat, each character is lost in a mire of bad decisions and idleness. Even our ever-so-slightly-more-redeemable protagonist, portrayed admirably by Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, is a victim of herself by allowing this miserable mutual cycle to continue freely. As such the film is hopeless; utterly and unequivocally shattering the romantic ideal, declaring both monogamy and marriage dead and spitting in their faces for good measure. Not only are these people and their relationships inherently flawed but they are living in a society where this is the expected norm.
The film is divided structurally into a reversed narrative. The opening scene shows us the very end of a failed (or perhaps, doomed?) relationship and traces the problems back to their roots. Despite this format the script is often predictable and becomes lost to what starts to feel like a series of stolen set pieces. Some of the situations seem contrived, due mainly to Freiss’s character never seeming whole or consistent to begin with. Therefore the subtle interplay of karmic adultery and bizarre relationships appear somewhat forced.
However I cannot fault the film’s visual execution; unerringly stylish and detached. Yet in this detachment there is a cruelty, there is no directorial voice extolling the virtue of love or even passion. There is no redemption, these are the lows humanity has fallen to and Ozon’s cynical camera offers no potential escape. Perhaps this is the “maturity” that other critics have so praised 5×2 for, the ability to not hold any romantic or hopeful sentiment.