Starring: Romain Duris, Déborah François, Bérénice Bejo
You may like this if you liked: Untouchable (Olivier Nakachi and Eric Toledano, 2011), The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011), Potiche (François Ozon, 2010)
France 1958, Rose Pamphyle (François) decides to leave her humble life in a small Normandy village and goes for an interview to be secretary for Insurance agent Louis Echard (Duris). Rose gets the job due to her impressive typing speed but proves to be an extremely clumsy secretary. However, due to his natural competitive streak, Louis decides to enter Rose into the regional speed typing contest and she moves in with him so she can learn and win. Of course, the two do start to fall for each other, but due to Louis’ fear of commitment and some personal ghosts something will inevitably be compromised.
I must be some kind of philistine! Apparently speed typing contests were extremely popular (globally) in the 1950s and I never knew about it! Well they were and here we have a French romantic comedy about it. I was sceptical about this one when seeing the trailers, but I am really glad I saw it and would thoroughly recommend Populaire. This being a romantic comedy it does come with all the usual conventions and trademarks of the genre. Yes it is a little predictable, cheesy and clichéd. However, the fact it contains such traits is not necessarily a problem, it is how it deals with them that is the issue. After all, most stories presented in films come with clichés, but it for me is all about how these clichés are both presented and dealt with. Populaire for me unashamedly knows exactly what it is from the off and embraces the functions of the genre, and basically enjoys using them. It never pretends to be original or revolutionary and solely focuses on being fun, and it does this with great success.
Anyone watching this will be able to easily predict all the narrative outcomes, but when the journey to those outcomes is so much fun that is not a problem. Reynard has created a beautifully made and thoroughly engaging film, which is enhanced by excellent performances from the entire cast. Romain Duris is an extremely charismatic presence in any film he is in, and here he is and doing a very effective Don Draper impression with added va-va-voom. His face must be made out of plasticine as some of the facial expressions he makes throughout the narrative are quite incredible. He provides an enigmatic, charismatic and extremely watchable character that manages to capture so many emotions solely through his facial expressions (and great hair). Déborah François is perfect as Rose, capturing naivety, innocence and compassion all with charming perfection. There is obvious natural charisma between the two actors and this enhances our emotional involvement with the film. The supporting cast are also extremely effective in their roles adding the necessary emotional depth to the two protagonists.
The production values are also excellent providing a genuine sense of time and place. There is also genuine excitement when watching people type as fast as humanly possible against each other, which is very impressive as I would have never thought that to be possible. Though there is part of us that knows certain outcomes, we cannot but help to want to punch the air in delight at certain times. The script is also very sharp and witty, and though the narrative has inevitable clichés and cheesiness, watching the film never becomes dreary or laboured as the dialogue is too clever and self aware to be bogged down by such easy traps. The lines exchanged between the two protagonists only enhancing the extremely watchable and compelling screen presence the two of them share. Despite the overall predictability there are some refreshingly surprising moments, the Christmas scene in particular a real entertaining delight.
It is very predictable, cheesy and very self aware. However Populaire embraces the flaws of its genre to create a naturally uplifting and immensely enjoyable film complemented by some exceptional performances. Trust me, when this film finishes you will be in a much happier mood compared to before you started watching it. If such a thing exists, this is most definitely ‘good mood cinema’ at its finest.