It sounds like the title for a romantic comedy, one glowing with the joys of amour, but Christophe Honore’s On A Magical Night is a different proposition. Yet, although it’s not the ideal choice of date movie if your relationship is on shaky ground, it’s still a fantasy that sparkles with wit, charm and more than a hint of cheekiness.
Maria (Chiara Mastroianni) and husband Richard (Benjamin Biolay) have been married for 25 years but, while he’s been totally faithful to her, he doesn’t realise she’s had a long string of affairs. And, on the night in question, he discovers the truth when he finds messages from her latest “bit of sexual fun”, to use her own words. In truth, the romance has gone from their marriage and, after the inevitable confrontation, she leaves their apartment and takes a room in the hotel across the road. A perfect viewing point from which to keep an eye on the flat, but this is a night when strange things happen and she soon finds she’s being watched just as much as her distraught husband.
In a style reminiscent of A Christmas Carol – and in a setting complete with some very artificial looking snow – she’s confronted by a host of characters from her past, most importantly the younger Richard (Vincent Lacoste) and the other major love in his life, his piano teacher Irene (Camille Cottin). Plus a chorus of her young lovers. Affairs and deeper relationships are revisited, romantic ideals are compared with life’s realities and a large question mark hangs over the whole notion of love.
Presented as an elegant bedroom farce, a sex comedy that takes the shine off the conventional rom-com, the film is choreographed with an almost theatrical grace as the characters weave in and out of each other’s real and fantasy lives. It’s a stylishly French feast for the eyes – beautifully framed shots, chic clothes (except perhaps for the older Richard) and sensual physical encounters – and the performances are in the same vein. This applies especially to Mastroianni who, despite everything she experiences while magic is in the air, never loses that self-confident stride she displays in the opening frames. Nor does she discard her eye for the attractive younger man. Yet that air of self-satisfaction makes her difficult to warm to and we have a similar issue with Irene and her early relationship with Richard when he’s in his early teens.
That air of discomfort doesn’t always sit comfortably with what the film sets out to do, explore the what-ifs of a long-standing relationship. It’s still an imaginative, amusing and entertaining experience but it’s a marriage – rather like Maria and Richard’s – with cracks. Ones that can’t be papered over.
Fantasy, Comedy, Romance | Cert: tbc | Curzon Artificial Eye | Curzon Home Cinema, 19 June 2020 | Dir. Christophe Honore | Chiara Mastroanni, Benjamin Biolay, Camille Cottin, Vincent Lacoste.