sun 16/06/2024

Populaire | reviews, news & interviews



Disappointing French romantic comedy which fails to deliver satisfactorily on either front

'Whatever the boss wants': Déborah François proves herself a dispiritingly malleable employee in 'Populaire'

Writer-director Régis Roinsard's feature debut is a perky French rom-com which brings together the talented, easy-on-the-eye trio of Déborah François, Romain Duris and Bérénice Bejo. Set in the late 50s it contains oodles of delicious period detail along with shades of the much-loved Amelie and the adorable 60s TV series Bewitched. It should be likeable; it should be full of fun. So why doesn't it work? Two words seal its fate: speed typing.

The year is 1958 in the small town of Saint-Fraimbault and - against the wishes of her conservative shopkeeper father - Rose Pamphyle (François) is determined to pursue her dream of becoming a secretary, travelling to Lisieux where she attends an interview for insurance salesman Louis Échard (Duris). Rose secures the job when she impresses Louis with her demon, yet slightly clumsy two-fingered typing skills. She's not a great secretary but Louis sees her potential in another respect. It's not what you think - it's as a competitive typist. He, somewhat bizarrely, installs himself as her coach, moving her, at first quite innocently, into his house so that he might train her more effectively. Rose's first competition doesn't go brilliantly, so with the help of a colour-coded typewriter Louis introduces her to the concept of ten-fingered typing.

While the clatter of typewriter keyboards might sound satisfying to the ears, perhaps unsurprisingly it doesn't make for a stimulating entertainment. You might find yourself baulking at Louis' improbable passion for the field (vaguely explained by his failure as a sportsman), or the positive frenzy with which the speed typing competitions are greeted. Despite being based on a semblance of reality (such competitions did and in fact do still exist) it's frankly baffling how anyone could find these typing competitions interesting let alone, as we're shown, exciting. Was life in the 50s really so dull?

Even taking into account that it's a period piece, Populaire feels terribly dated. Modern eyes may roll at a female protagonist slave to her boss's whims and ultimately affections. The accomplished François (see her work in L'enfant and the underrated The Page Turner) is effortlessly winning but then Rose isn't a role that requires effort and the Oscar-nominated (and Cannes 2013's Best Actress) Bejo (pictured above right looking as bored as I felt) is infuriatingly underused in a miniscule supporting part. Duris played an unconventional romantic lead in the enjoyably ridiculous Heartbreaker but that film had ample humour and an engaging concept, giving him a platform from which to soar. Here he's an unconvincing, uncharismatic character stripped down to a self-satisfied leer and interest in the central romance suffers as a result.

Populaire is pretty peppy and, in this, Roinsard proves himself a reasonably competent director, successfully wringing some kitsch value from the subject matter. Yet his script (co-written with Daniel Presley and Romain Compingt) fails to flesh-out any of its characters, or provide enough plot developments, or anywhere near enough quality gags. And, at near two hours, it's overlong for something so consistently insubstantial. Every year we are bombarded by quality French films - films of great insight and artistic integrity which show us all shades of the filmic rainbow - but Populaire, sadly, is as disposable as fluff.

Watch the trailer for Populaire

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Even taking into account that it's a period piece, Populaire feels terribly dated


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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