Reviewed by Ken Fox

With a nod to Harold Pinter's dramatic tour de force Betrayal and a wink at MEMENTO, French director Francois Ozon's merciless vivisection of a dying marriage is divided into five chapters and told in reverse. It starts at the bitter end and ends at the seemingly sunny start which, in retrospect, actually foreshadows this couple's doom. The film opens with Marion (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) and Gilles (Stephane Freiss) finalizing the details of their divorce with a judge, signing the papers, then checking into a depressing hotel room. They planned on a round of goodbye/good riddance sex, but after climbing into bed, Marion changes her mind. Nevertheless, Gilles rapes her. How could things have come to this dismal pass? Ozon begins by showing us Marion and Gilles some time earlier, putting their young son, Nicolas, to bed, then settling down for drinks with Gille's brother, Christophe (Antoine Chappey), and his promiscuous younger lover, Mathieu (Marc Ruchmann). After a discussion about the pros and cons of fidelity, during which Mathieu declares that every couple has their lies and secrets, Gilles drunkenly details the one and only time he's ever been unfaithful to Marion, and it's a shocker. The next vignette is set on the night of Nicolas' birth. While giving Marion a routine ultrasound, her obstetrician notices a serious complication and strongly recommends inducing labor. After contacting Gilles at his office, Marion is rushed into the emergency room; Gilles, however, waits until it's all over before joining Marion's bickering parents (Francoise Fabian, Michel Lonsdale) at the hospital. Before he even sees Marion or his newborn son, Gilles disappears. The next segment starts out on a much happier note: It's Gilles and Marion's wedding day, and even Marion's parents seem to be getting along. That night, however, after putting a drunken Gilles to bed in their bridal suite, Marion slips out for a chance encounter with an American stranger in the hotel's garden. The final chapter finds Gilles and Marion meeting at an idyllic Italian beach resort. Gilles is on holiday with Valerie (Geraldine Pailhas), his girlfriend of four years, when he spots Marion, whom he recognizes from work but barely knows. Valerie immediately senses that something's afoot, and she's right. It seems Mathieu was correct all along: Secrets and lies are part of every couple's life. It's not as good a film as UNDER THE SAND or SWIMMING POOL, which offered Ozon the opportunity to work with his muse, Charlotte Rampling, but it's still a wickedly entertaining bit of domestic tragedy: It's strongly acted; remarkably cohesive, given the unusual format; and the romantic Franco-pop songs that conclude each chapter an ironic counterpoint to all the subtle sadism and unspoken agony that's gone before.