Reviewed by Drew Ninnis
Director: Régis Roinsard
Screenplay: Régis Roinsard, Daniel Presley, Romain Compingt
Runtime: 111 minutes
Cast: Déborah François, Romain Duris, Bérénice Bejo, Shaun Benson
Trailer: “Not participate ... win!” (warning: trailer contains entire film)
Viewed as part of the Alliance Française Film Festival, 2014.
Plot: Set in a strange, Candy Land version of 1958, Populaire follows young Rose Pamphyle as she is transformed from a klutzy secretary into a professional athlete competing at the highest levels. The athletic sport, you ask? Speed typing. Yes, you read that right. This unremarkable ugly duckling tale is made possible through the chauvinist attentions of her employer, Louis Échard, who has a dark emotional past of his own. Could their bond rest on more than mutual desire to win? To say any more about the plot would imply that there was more plot. This is not the case.
Review: So you have a mother, relative, friend, wheelchair-bound panda that you sometimes have to spend time with; and you like challenging films that push the bounds of the medium or challenge your worldview, whereas they like Law and Order: SVU and find Mad Men a little difficult to follow but love the outfits. You’ve decided to go to the cinema together and don’t know what to see. That movie may as well be Populaire, which aims to be all things to no people. The film is pretty much inoffensive – not because there is nothing to be offended by (if you’re a woman, or don’t fetishize classic sexism from the good ole’ days, then there’s plenty to be offended by), but because for all that you’ll probably agree your energy is best spent elsewhere.
The film is colourful, competently shot and directed, and the characterisations are tolerable while suggesting that these actors could very much be funny given a more ambitious script. The beats of the film exemplify a by-the-numbers-approach, and if you’ve read the above plot summary you’ve already guessed that the climax of the film will involve: a) an inevitable will-they-wont-they dynamic between Rose and her boss, and b) an international typing competition where an American secretary is the villain (but of course, congenial films such as these have not so much villains but speedbumps who turn out to be human after all). Rose, of course, improves her typing by bashing out classic literature at high speed; amazing Louis’ haute bourgeois family with her proletarian take on French culture. Sadly, she does not yell “move your bloomin’ arse!” at a racehorse at any point in the film; a missed opportunity, I feel.
Added to this formula is the subplot of Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, friends of legal dynamo Louis Échard (Rose’s boss is a lawyer, who’s sympathetic bona fides is proven when he doesn’t steal a priceless painting discovered in a client’s attic, a lapse of professional ethics his lawyer father still won’t forgive him for). They take an active interest in Rose and her fight to become Mavis Beacon Ultimate Edition; puzzled at Louis’ sustained interest in this latest project. But could there have been something more between Mrs. Taylor and Louis, lingering in their past? Of course, stupid question – and you’ll definitely see one, and only one, emotionally charged scene directed at dealing with that question. Right in the middle of it you’ll say “My goodness, Bérénice Bejo! What are you doing here?” (And she'd respond "Why, bankrolling my next good film, of course!"). Even Academy Award nominated actresses need to eat (a fact backed up by her appearance in A Knight’s Tale).
Ultimately, after watching this equation solved for the value of x (where x = French + Hairspray – stakes), you’ll likely be slightly entertained. And better yet, your mandatory socialisation period will have concluded and you can discuss how you liked the hair styles – and, oh-my-goodness, those outfits! – in the car on the way home. Roinsard has certainly proven that he is a safe pair of hands for any future investors seeking something with mindless mainstream appeal, both at home and abroad.
Rating: Two ridiculously pink typewriters. (Yep, she ends up flogging pink French typewriters as a “prize.” Spoiler alert.)
Post Script: And to answer your other question - no, I have no idea how this managed to get an "R" rating in the US either. Provocative nail polish use?
Amazon link, because I'm a corporate shill: