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French wife-swap drama takes itself too seriously

Actress Elodie Bouchez poses during a photocall for the film The Imperialists Are still Alive ! at the 36th American film festival in Deauville September 9, 2010. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

VENICE (Hollywood Reporter) - Two young married couples who decide to swap partners for sex live to regret it in “Happy Few,” a story that takes itself far too seriously to be taken seriously by an audience.

The good-looking young cast and copious nudity, all tres francais, may attract some business, but even then the fun is limited by director Antony Cordier’s heavy-handed treatment of material that is more naturally bedroom farce. Despite its hot subject and the presence of luminous Elodie Bouchez (“The Dreamlife of Angels”), commercial prospects look surprisingly feeble.

It all starts one day when a spark flies between IT techie Nicolas (Nicolas Duvauchelle) and jewelry designer Rachel (Marina Fois) at work. She invites him and his wife Teri (Bouchez) over for dinner to meet her husband Franck (Roschdy Zem), and Franck and Teri also discover a mutual attraction.

Being modern young couples, they immediately agree on a guilt-free exchange of partners, with almost no rules. Everyone falls in love (“Can you love two people at the same time?”), making a break-up harder, even when things start to get out of hand. A nice touch is the way Rachel and Franck’s daughter and Teri and Nicolas’s two kids get brushed aside and callously forgotten in the excitement.

Cordier mounts a culminating scene, with a few genuine dramatic chills, when they take a group vacation in an old country house and allow the games to go too far. The attention finally focuses on the vivacious, natural Teri; even Rachel acts out her attraction in a morbid lesbian scene.

Though the film pretends to put moral questions aside, the finale punishes all the sinners with long faces and the prospect of an empty life ahead. The story is recounted by a mishmash of narrators, making it objectively impossible to get hold of any of them. Nor do the couples seem well-matched, however they’re mixed; and their dialogue sounds interchangeable.

Bouchez is enigmatic and elusively touching as the beauty everyone’s in love with. The fine Zem (“Days of Glory”), however, is the only actor who creates a concrete character, thanks to a few comic remarks that put the absurd situation into perspective.