The premise of this film -- an aging woman hires a gorgeous, up-scale hooker to begin an affair with her philandering husband in order to re-learn what turns him on -- is so slight that it's reminiscent of Woody Allen's experiment in Melinda & Melinda. Comedy, drama, or thriller could be grown from this seed, depending on the director's whim. But the pleasant surprise of Anne Fontaine's Nathalie. . . is its unwillingness to fully commit to any one genre. Instead, a potential plot twist is dangled before our eyes in the opening scenes and then brushed back under the rug, leaving us with a kernel of suspense to go with an otherwise straightforward story about a woman's wounded pride and her increasing fascination with the way a beautiful, sexy woman can set a fire in her husband's mind in a way she never could.
The beautiful woman in question is Marlene, played by French star Emmanuelle Beart, who recently starred in Danis Tanovic's Hell, a not-uninteresting updating ofEuripides' Medea. Even though the crossover bridge has been presumably lowered for Beart several times over the years, it's in French cinema that she's remained most prominent. To American audiences, she is still most recognizable as Claire, the foxy turncoat with the heavy French accent in Brian DePalma's Mission: Impossible.