Like Harold Pinter's Betrayal and the Stephen Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along, François Ozon's latest goes backward in time, delineating the relationship of Marion (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) and Gilles (Stéphane Freiss). It begins with their divorce and recedes to their initial romance, on a beautiful beach in Italy.

5x2 is marked by the gleaming technical assurance and intelligence which are always evident with Ozon, but it feels rather slight and suffers from the weakness with which Gilles' character is developed. While Marion is easily presented as one of those paragons of French womanhood, a chic, intelligent, deeply sensitive and sensual working mother of the most adorable tot, you never discover just what it is that makes the moody, inchoate Gilles tick. The initial scene in which he virtually rapes Marion before she storms, screamingly, away is a gigantic obstacle in terms of any kind of viewer identification with him. An impassive cruelty, more than anything else, seems to be his m.o., as when he graphically describes an orgy he participated in, with Marion as witness, to his gay brother and the brother's intrigued younger lover. (And this constitutes some casual at-home family dinner conversation!)

The one time Marion strays from pedestal perfection in their marriage is on their wedding night, when she succumbs to the sexual charms of a stranger she encounters on a midnight stroll. But even this is somewhat excused by the fact that Gilles has drunkenly passed out, obviously not up to the sexual expectations of his new bride. Later-or is it before?-when Gilles glumly refuses to go to her bedside when she gives birth to their son, one must read all the usual Oprah-esque male psychological clichés into his taciturn behavior-fear of intimacy, parental panic, etc.-in lieu of any answers Ozon might have given us. The one sequence with real observed originality is the little monologue Gilles' brother delivers about the rigors of his open relationship, which effectively belies the clichéd heterosexual view of gay life being one merry libertine cakewalk.

The acting of both leads is good, at times more than that, but you feel that you've already seen every scene they're in, in countless other movies, from Gilles' in-laws bickering over Marion's hospital bed, to the couple's harsh divorce proceedings, riddled with oppressive legal jargon. What little one can take away from this unexciting conceit, which suffers, like Betrayal and Merrily We Roll Along did, from schematic claustrophobia, lies in sundry details: a ravishing, foamy wedding gown for Marion; a silly comic interlude in which Gilles is made by a stage comedian to spell various words with his derriere; the strident comic force of Françoise Fabian, as Marion's mother, who momentarily jolts the film into some non-schematic life.
-David Noh