Oh, French comedies. What is not to like about them? I am lucky enough to have grown up with a Francophile mother who showed me at an early age the entire filmography of Louis de Funes and the magnificent Les Visiteurs.
As of lately, I have gone back to studying the French language, because I was starting to forget everything I knew. So when a friend pointed out that there was a new film on Netflix that I would surely love, I didn’t think twice.
The movie, Populaire, was out in the United Kingdom two years ago and I remembered seeing the posters on the tube, with the tagline “The Artist (because it’s French) meets Mad Men (because it’s the late 50s)”. Strangely, I missed it back then, which I have now realised it was a mistake.
The premise of the story is so unbelievable I couldn’t think at first it was a real thing: the plot revolves around a speed typing competition. Yes, that is what the movie is about. Even though at first I didn’t understand who would care about those things, I found myself excited and cheering up for the main character every time she had to type. I guess that means the movie achieves its goals!
But let’s start from the beginning. This is the story of Rose Pamphyle, a clumsy 20-year-old who wants to escape her small town and do something with her life. She goes to Lisieux, in Normandy, to become the secretary of Louis Échard, who runs an insurance company. He obviously realises that Rose cannot do anything right, except for typewriting. He gets so obsessed that he tells his best friend Bob (an American who stole Louis’ girl when after landing on D-Day) that he will make her the fastest typewriter ever and she will win the world championship.
It does sound like an odd plot, doesn’t it? But then again, the movie in surrounded in an unreal, yet recognisable atmosphere that we can only see in modern movies set in the 1950s/1960s.
The good thing about this movie is that the cast members know what to do and have perfect chemistry. Déborah François makes Rose look like a blonde, French version of Audrey Hepburn, while Romain Duris as Louis resembles Eion Bailey’s charming-but-not-as-hot older brother. Add to that mix Bérénice Bejo, a woman who should be in every movie ever, and you get a great result: a film that is the French equivalent to the Doris Day and Rock Hudson comedies.
If you have some time to spend, watch this movie, because by the time it ends you are going to have a smile on your face. That is what French comedies do, and I speak from personal experience.