Co-written and directed by Anne Fontaine and released in 2003, "Nathalie..." centers around the strange relationship that develops between Catherine, a wife who suspects her husband of cheating, and Marlene (who changes her name to Nathalie), a call girl she hires to seduce him in order to prove her suspicions. A slightly dark and moody film with stark feminist undertones, "Nathalie..." explores the use of words to drastically alter one's perceptions as well as the art of using sex and the power of suggestion to manipulate others.
After her husband Bernard (Gerard Depardieu) casually admits to having an affair, Catherine (Fanny Ardant), a working wife and mother, goes to a local bar where she meets a call girl named Marlene (Emmanuelle Beart), whom she hires with the vague intention of seducing her husband to test his fidelity. Using the name Nathalie, Marlene sets about seducing Bernard, reporting back to Catherine after each of their sexual encounters to tell her of their affair in explicit detail.
The Art of Manipulation
"Nathalie" and Catherine soon form an unusual relationship that moves from friendship to obsession. Marlene adopts the role of "Nathalie" like a dual personality, going so far as to tell Catherine that "Nathalie" does things that she, Marlene, would never do. Marlene reports each meeting with Bernard to Catherine who not only takes the graphic details of their love making with a grain of salt, but also seems to take pleasure in the illicit trysts that "Nathalie" describes. The art of manipulation serves as a major theme throughout the film. Aside from an early scene in which Marlene is supposed to meet Bernard in a cafe, their characters are never seen together on film, nor are they even seen in the same room. Each time "Nathalie" describes her lovemaking with Bernard, her trysts become more and more graphic and elaborate. Catherine allows these stories to increasingly warp her view of her husband, even going so far as to warn Marlene not to believe the things Bernard might tell her. As the film progresses, Marlene takes more and more money from Catherine for each "meeting" with Bernard and even persuades Catherine to rent her an apartment, even though Catherine has no concrete proof that an affair is even taking place. Subsequently, the relationship between Marlene and Catherine deepens.
In the end, Marlene reveals the affair between "Nathalie" and Bernard to be a complete fabrication, though this is made apparent to the viewer almost immediately after the two supposedly meet. Marlene has used "Nathalie" to manipulate Catherine into paying her, allowing her to come the closest she has ever been to leaving behind the life of a call girl. However, the film ends as ambiguously as it began. Marlene's fate is just as uncertain at the close of the film as it was when she first met Catherine, despite the money Catherine lavishes on her throughout the film. Likewise, Catherine and Bernard have not evolved at all. The affair Bernard admits to and the affair Catherine has during the film are dismissed without so much as a conversation to explain it, and the two continue on in their lives just as they had before as though "Nathalie" never existed.
Feminist View and Overall Tone
The film has a quiet, semi-dark tone and depicts characters void of nearly all emotion, most notably depicted by Catherine's lack of anger concerning her husband's affair and Bernard's nonchalant reception of Catherine's increasingly distant manner. The film also displays a strong feminist view as it deals primarily with the relationship that develops between Catherine and Marlene/Nathalie and virtually discards Bernard and all other male characters, most importantly Catherine and Bernard's son. The film is told exclusively from Catherine's point of view and takes a decidedly feminine stance on sex and relationships. Despite his admittance to an affair, Bernard is never seen with another woman. Subsequently, the affair he admits to at the start of the film is virtually dismissed by all characters except Catherine, who seems to employ "Nathalie" as a way to validate the ugly view she has of her husband even though he appears to be an average, caring man when actually seen in the film. Believing her husband to be a cheating liar, Catherine herself has an affair but this infidelity is also dismissed -- a blatant double standard. The affair is also never mentioned by either character and, unlike Bernard, the infidelity does not reflect poorly on Catherine in any way.
- "Nathalie..."; Anne Fontaine; 2003
- "Variety"; Film Review: Nathalie...; Derek Elley; September 2003
- Georges DeKeerle/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images