Did you know? Women used to be treated rather dismissively! It’s true! And not that long ago, either! Why, a woman could aspire to nothing greater than to be a secretary of a Big Shot in the Big City. And by “Big City” we’re taling about Lisieux (pop. in 1958, approx 20,000).
In the charming French flick Populaire our heroine dreams of escaping her provincial life as the daughter of a general store owner, through her powers of typing.
OK, even if the premise is too self-satisfied by half—look at these silly 20th century men and how they treat women!—this is a delightful romcom, done in the style of the era in which it is meant to take place, 1958-1960. The film stock (probably all digital of course) looks the same. The music is in an appropriate style. The plot twists and conventions are the same—though more on that in a moment—and the actors are the living embodiments of their archetypes.
The basic outline seems sort of Pygmalion at first, but it’s really more like Rocky, or maybe Gypsy, with Louis hiring the world’s worst secretary, Rose, not for her beauty (as the townspeople of Liseux imagine) but for her mad typing skillz. And this, all, in some strange gambit to impress The Girl That Got Away, Marie, who married an American soldier after the war.
Well, it’s pretty obvious how this is going to play out, but like all good romcoms, it plays out in a series of scenes by turn amusing, enchanting or romantic, so that you root for the two heroes to get over their dumb selves and get together. And so old school such that the post-Ephron weak-woman template is refreshingly missing.
Now, at the end of the second act, about the time an American movie might have ended, there’s a sex scene! I mean, not a kiss-and-fade-out-wink-wink but a several seconds-long-with-boobage type scene you’d never have seen in a movie of that time.
Well, not an American movie, anyway. This was about the time of the French New Wave, of course, which had nudity and sex and violence and all that, but they weren’t making romcoms. So, is it appropriate for this film? Well, I’m gonna let you down, dear reader, ‘cause I just don’t know.
The Boy and I liked it, but felt the third act dragged on a bit and was overall heavier than the first two, and not as fun. The arrogant Louis must sacrifice, get his comeuppance, and ultimately give Rose the strength she needs to succeed, of course, but it was a lot less fun.
Deborah Francois (her name has lotsa funky diacritics on it; I won’t be typing those) is adorable as the klutzy Audrey Hepburn-esque Rose. Romain Duris looks a little odd in the period style hair and clothes, smallish with a strong Gallic nose, but he hits just the right note as the striving Louis.
Marie is played Berenice Bejo (still not doing diacritics, you frogs!) looking beautiful and a propos in her late ’50s fashions (far moreso than in the ’30s fashions of The Artist). Shaun Benson, a Canadian, plays Marie’s American husband.
Written and directed by newcomer Regis Roinsard (still not doing diacritics, yo), whom we hope to see more of soon.