Regis Roinsard’s debut movie Populaire delights not by surprising or challenging viewers but by simply delivering everything it promises. It’s an unapologetic tribute to romantic comedies from the ’40s and ’50s, and Roinsard and his co-screenwriters Daniel Presley and Romain Compingt have an astonishing memory of why viewers used to flock to see Grace Kelly paired off with Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart.
From the opening titles, which do a remarkably able job of evoking the animated words that Saul Bass once put on the screen before movies like Around the World in 80 Days, Roinsard crafts the sort of sentimental fare that graced screens in the late 1950s, although setting the tale in Normandy instead of New York does give the new film something to distinguish it from the Hollywood films it imitates.
Rose Pamphyle (Belgian actress Deborah Francois) is a young rural villager who’d like to do more than work in her dad’s store and marry a local mechanic. She spots a typewriter on her dad’s shelf and quickly masters it, despite her awkward hunt-and-peck technique.
She moves to the city and tries her luck as a secretary for an insurer named Louis Echard (Romain Duris). To most this might sound like a dull, humdrum existence, but to Rose, making moneyon her own instead of being a housewife seems rather modern and liberating.
Unfortunately, she’s lousy as an office assistant. The only reason Louis even keeps her on is because of her intimidating speed and accuracy at the keyboard. Taking phone messages is beyond her.
Having once been a promising athlete, Louis instantly recognizes that the pretty but clumsy Rose has the raw talent to win typing contests. He offers her a room in his spacious home and puts her through the same workout that he received in track and field. With a little refining, she consistently helps Louis win bets against his American best friend Bob (Canadian actor Shaun Benson). She might even help him get past his crush on Bob’s wife, Marie (Berenice Bejo, The Artist).
Roinsard nails the look and the attitude of romantic comedies from that era but approaches his tale with such sincerity that it’s a pleasure to watch him proceed down a well-worn path. The film is loaded with bright glowing colors, but fortunately, the people wearing those almost glowing clothes are interesting enough to follow.
Francois effortlessly goes from ingenue to a terror for her opponents. Duris initially comes off as a cold, manipulative jerk. Thankfully, he can also convey the traits that Rose would want and deserve in a boss and a lover.
Thanks to his able cast, Roinsard can take dictation from past masters like Billy Wilder, and thankfully his transcribing is suitably professional.
Populaire 83 Cast: Romain Duris, Deborah François, Berenice Bejo, Shaun Benson, Melanie Bernier, Nicolas Bedos, Miou-Miou, Eddy Mitchell Director: Regis Roinsard Rating: R, for a scene of sexuality Running time: 111 minutes In French, English and German with subtitles.
MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 10/04/2013
Print Headline: Populaire