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"Swimming Pool" and "8 Femmes" director Francois Ozon's new film "5x2" (IMDb listing) tells the story of a failed marriage in reverse. The movie opens up with the couple's divorce and continues in backwards chronology with a sequence from their married days, the birth of their son, their wedding and finally the beginning of their relationship.

Marion (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) and Gilles (Stephane Freiss) go to a hotel room for one last fling after leaving their divorce lawyer's office. This fling turns out to be a rape when Marion realizes that she has made a mistake by agreeing to this last date. Following this sequence, and being introduced to Gilles as a rather appalling character, Ozon allows us a peek at an earlier evening at the couple's house where they entertain Gilles' brother and his lover. This is followed by the third act, the birth of the couple's child. When a complication occurs and Marion has to have a cesarean, Gilles abandons her at the hospital, returning only when the crisis has passed.

The fourth act is their wedding night. This is the first time the audience sees Marion and Gilles completely in love with each other, unfazed by the hardships of a marriage and before they learn indifference, disgust and disillusion. After this sequence Ozon takes us to an Italian beach resort where Marion is vacationing alone, and Gilles is with then-girlfriend Valerie (Geraldine Pailhas). The last shot of the movie is Marion and Gilles going in for a swim, just as the sun starts to rise behind the mountains.

As the story progresses -- or rather disentangles -- the first impression of Gilles as the intimidating husband and Marion as the acquiescing wife is transformed. Both Gilles and Marion evolve into real, three-dimensional characters. The shot of Gilles sleeping next to his little son, and the shot where Marion returns to their hotel room on their wedding eve portray the profound and realistic existences of both Gilles and Marion.

In a press interview Ozon says: "I wanted each episode to reflect a different style of cinema, we start with an intense psychological drama, then move into the second part, which is more socially anchored, in the tradition of French cinema. For the wedding, American films were my reference, and for the couple's initial encounter I aimed for something along the lines of [Eric] Rohmer's summer films."

Ozon certainly offers a different cinematic style for each act of the movie. These stylistic variations enable Ozon to progress backwards from one sequence to the next with coherence and ease. This way, the five episodes feel like five random photographs from the couple's family album, all taken at different years and occasions. The omission of periods in between the five episodes allows the viewers to create their own realities based on personal experiences or interpretations of these episodes.

While a fatalist viewer might perceive the film's final episode as the beginning of the couple's eventual end, a more positive viewer would see it as the foundation of an intimate relationship as any other, filled with passion, fear and unfortunately, closure. "5x2" lets the audience decide if it is a sad or happy movie, just as it lets them decide where it ends.

Filmfodder Grade: B