‘Populaire’ (2013) will give you a toothache.

6 Jun

Populaire posterRose Pamphyle (Déborah François) is a typical 1950’s girl; though living in rural-ish France, she seeks the exciting American Dream of becoming a secretary for some big-shot man in the city. So she travels to bustling Normandy, and her new boss Louis Echard (Romain Duris) notices her incredible typing ability. Their employer-employee relationship soon turns to coach-athlete as they work together to improve her chances at winning the French typewriting championships. Drama ensues along the way, however, as their professional relationship morphs into something altogether more personal.

European romance films are a different beast to their Hollywood counterparts. Whereas American love stories tend to focus on the happily-ever-after, French films in particular are concerned with the journey itself, the quest to romantic fulfilment. The actual conclusion to the story is fairly obvious, and Populaire is guilty of this particular anomaly. As a result, the film is unashamedly predictable and formulaic, but along the way we’re treated to some really funny lines, great costumes and tense drama which all fuse together into an enjoyable, if unmemorable movie.

From the bright, vivid colours to the unflinching glee typical of French cinema, Populaire teeters on the brink of being too sweet and jolly. The small number of dramatically tense scenes is vastly outweighed by an almost overbearing exuberance that could really irk certain audiences, especially those unfamiliar with French film. Rose is basically a large child whose happy-go-lucky demeanour fades maybe twice, Louis is more layered but still generally upbeat, and together they are surrounded by a cast of friendly faces, one of which has this incredibly annoying tendency to burst into some random American slang term or movie quote.

Set as it is in a conservative period of history, there is a helluva lot of misogyny in Populaire. But before any feminists get all riled up, the film avoids the ‘offensive’ tag for two reasons. First of all, the sexism is contextual, while simultaneously satirical; much like Mad Men, the various ways in which women are subjugated are all teased and called out for their inherent ridiculousness. Secondly, without giving anything away, the female characters wind up in the best light by being portrayed as having far fewer flaws than their male counterparts.

This unflinching positivity gets a bit old after a while, but in the end Populaire remains a charming enough, entertaining if very predictable slice of French cinema. There is nothing new, innovative or even particularly creative here, but everything is handled so gracefully that Populaire’s lack of originality is totally forgivable.

Simon says: if Mad Men had a baby with Amélie… And Cool Runnings was watching.


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