Wouldn’t it be a marvelous thing to happen if all your ex-lovers were in one room at once, as well as the younger version of your husband and his first love as he remembers her? Partly rhetorical and partly easy to answer, at least for Maria, the protagonist of On a Magical Night it is.
After her infidelity is uncovered by her husband University professor Maria goes to stay at the hotel opposite her marital flat. Here she is visited by her ex-lovers, a younger version of her husband Richard and Richard’s first love Irène, his piano teacher. Throughout the night, they discuss her choices, her past and her relationships until the cold light of day brings forces her to make a decision.
There is a certain stereotypical attitude in French films that adultery is taken as a given in a marriage if one half of the couple claims to be very sexual and needs to be free to do what they want. Its seen as a light-hearted, inconsequential issue but for Maria’s husband of over 20 years, Richard reacts differently. It is seen as more of an overreaction by Maria and is even surprised that he cares so much about this soul-destroying betrayal. Cheating on the person you claim to love and not want to leave then acting as if it was nothing is cruel.
Maria is portrayed as a cold person, showing little to no emotion when Richard confronts her or even when she is forced to face up to her past, with all the men in the room, she has nowhere to hide. She at first justifies her actions and then when pressed further, the real question about her and what the film is really about is placed out in the open; whether she is still in love with her husband as much as she loved him when he was younger.
The question of whether to live with the past, or to try and make the present work is explored as well. Wondering what would have been if choices had been different but all these smaller subplots edge further away from the main question posed about Maria and Richard. While one prefers young men and is a serial adulterer, the other has been faithful but will always have an emotional connection to the one great love. This would have been more interesting to explore and maybe more scenes with just Maria and Richard (present-day) would have given more insight into their relationship with each other rather than what they think separately. With a few laughs and continued heartache, at least from Richard’s side, this magical night has to end sometime, a little further clarity by the morning would have been useful.
Dir: Christophe Honoré
Prd: Philippe Martin, David Thion
Scr: Christophe Honoré
Cast: Chiara Mastroianni, Vincent Lacoste, Camille Cottin, Benjamin Biolay
DoP: Rémy Chevrin
Running time: 90 minutes
On a Magical Night is screening at BFI London Film Festival on 9th, 11th & 12th October