On a Magical Night
For the most part, Christophe Honoré’s latest film is cheeky and charming and delightfully French. On a Magical Night opens up the cracks in a 20-year marriage, shattering the shiny image of the perfect rom-com relationship and forming a sparkling bedroom farce from the pieces. Careful though: some of the shards cut a little too deep.
After college lecturer Maria (Chiara Mastroianni) reveals to husband Richard (Benjamin Biolay) a long history of affairs, she sneaks out to spend the night at the hotel across the road. But this is a “magical night”, and it’s not long before the past comes knocking. A whole host of weird and wonderful characters appear, from her 25-year-old husband (Vincent Lacoste) and his old fling (Camille Cottin) to her will personified (Stéphane Roger). Time collapses in on itself as young passion is revisited and reignited, ideals and reality are compared and the very concept of love is questioned.
When it comes to fluency, the film is a beautifully choreographed dance from start to finish. The cast pirouettes around each other, attracting and repelling with perfect pace like spinning magnets. Characters are framed beautifully in windows, sprawled decadently across beds, illuminated to a delicate glow with soft lighting. The whole tableau is an unfeasibly fashionable fantasy, masterfully calculated but executed with seemingly effortless elegance. The clothes are casual yet chic, but the style is also in the wearer, and the performances are subtly enticing: Mastroianni, in particular, struts seductively through every scene.
Sometimes, though, the rather over-indulgent sexuality of the characters raises some problematic questions. However charming she may be, are we really supposed to truly warm to a protagonist so self-satisfied and unashamed by her duplicity? More importantly, are we to allow such a cursory glance when another character – a teacher, no less – grooms a 14-year-old boy? Her predatory behaviour is glossed over, her 60-year-old self (Carole Bouquet) later congratulated for letting go of her infatuation as if we can somehow overlook the earlier image of a 40 year old stroking the shirtless back of a schoolchild.
On a Magical Night explores the what-ifs of marriage, the alternate realities that many spouses ponder on but none dare to utter. In this sense, it’s a wildly imaginative, fiendishly fun ride. It’s a shame, then, that Honoré’s faux-transgressive handling of deeply disturbing issues makes it hard to get on board.
On a Magical Night is released digitally on Curzon Home Cinema on 19th June 2020.
Watch the trailer for On a Magical Night here: