VOD film review: On a Magical Night
Luke Channell | On 23, Jun 2020
Director: Christophe Honoré
Cast: Chiara Mastroianni, Benjamin Biolay, Vincent Lacoste, Camille Cottin
Watch On a Magical Night online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema
Cinema is an art-form capable of transporting audiences to alternate realities and, for this reason, is uniquely suited to portraying the many potential paths of life on-screen. This is the preoccupation of French writer-director Christophe Honoré’s latest film, On a Magical Night, which playfully explores the past lovers of Parisienne couple Maria (Chiara Mastroianni) and Richard (Benjamin Biolay) whose 20-year marriage is on the rocks.
It all kicks off when Richard discovers texts on Maria’s phone from her erotically named lover Asdrubal Electorat (Harrison Arevalo). When Richard confronts Maria, she cynically shrugs it off as something all married couples do and reveals herself as a serial adulterer. Contemplating the future of her marriage, Maria checks into room 212 at the hotel across the street, which conveniently looks into her current apartment.
In a Christmas Carol-style scenario, she is visited by a host of visions, some living, some dead, who offer up their own opinions on her marriage. The visitors include Richard’s 20-year-old self (Vincent Lacoste), her judgemental mother and grandmother, a host of ex-lovers, Richard’s old piano teacher and first love, Irène (Camille Cottin), and the personification of Maria’s will (Stéphane Roger). Soon, these spirits also visit Richard and the pair are provoked into imagining the paths their lives could have taken if they hadn’t met.
While a Parisian romantic comedy about infidelity is hardly breaking new ground, Honoré’s 12th film is infused with enough wit, insight and stylistic flourishes to keep proceedings feeling fresh. Though the film could be classed as a chamber piece, with most of the marital drama occurring in one location, Honoré opens up the space in innovative ways, gliding from each room with aerial shots and using the different spaces of the hotel to humorously introduce different ghosts of the past; his adroit cinematic style seamlessly illustrates the multitude of paths Maria could have taken.
The film’s fantastical premise produces plenty of incisive musings on regret, memory, monogamy and relationships, including one particularly impactful scene where older Richard laments to Irène: “Love is always built on memory. Love is always a place chosen together.” But as the film continues to ratchet up the magical realism, its quirky premise begins to unravel. Luckily, On a Magical Night’s charm and whimsy help distract from the flimsy mechanics of its central idea. Honoré’s script is suitably sharp and draws plenty of laughs from the farce of Maria’s many ex-lovers all appearing in her hotel room at once.
The cast all put in engaging performances, especially Mastroianni who imbues Maria with charisma and likability despite her philandering ways. With a poignant rendition of Barry Manilow’s Could It Be Magic, the film ends its narrative arc on a satisfying note. While not quite spellbinding, On a Magical Night is a fun, beautifully filmed and deceptively moving French romp.