Cautious middle-aged sparks fly in Courted

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      Starring Fabrice Luchini and Sidse Babett Knudsen. In French, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable

      The latest in a long line of poorly branded Euro exports, the quietly delightful Courted—which won several festival and French-film awards—was originally called L’hermine. That refers to the absurd fur robe Michel Racine (The Girl from Monaco’s Fabrice Luchini) wears while presiding over his circuit-court cases.

      Recently divorced and living in a hotel, the diminutive judge is battling a bad cold while overseeing the particularly disheartening trial of a young labourer (Victor Pontecorvo) accused of murdering his own infant daughter. The defendant says nothing but “I didn’t do it” on the stand, throwing suspicion back on his equally inarticulate wife (Miss Ming), severely depressed at the time.

      Despite its sensational nature, and the surprising amount we learn about the French legal system—randomly selected jurors sit on the same raised panel with multiple judges—the trial turns out to be a MacGuffin here. This exquisitely observed character study, more comedy than drama, is really about the judge’s growing relationship with a woman on the jury.

      Denmark’s slyly radiant Sidse Babbett Knudsen (earthy in A Hologram for the King and kinky in The Duke of Burgundy) plays Ditte, a Franco-Danish doctor he met during a serious spell in the hospital. Known as a chilly figure, a punctilious rule-keeper, and a harsh sentencer, Racine starts taking risks to spend more time with Ditte, a single mom who has just the right courtside manner to challenge his advances. Sparks fly, in a cautious, middle-aged way.

      The judge’s name is likely a nod to the 17th-century French poet and playwright, known for tragedies centering on regents with too much power over others. And writer-director Christian Vincent (of 2012’s Haute Cuisine) also seems to be gesturing towards Balzac with his introduction of supporting characters from varying social strata, while offering few immediate clues as to which will or won’t matter in the overall story. It’s not a movie for people who need all their cases tied up neatly at the end, but more for viewers who enjoy the bittersweet deliberations of life itself.