Populaire (Cert 12)
1 Disc (Distributor: Entertainment One) Running Time: 111 minutes approx.
France, 1958 and 21 year-old Rose Pamphyle (Déborah François) is tired of life working in her father’s tiny village shop and has greater aspirations. She attends an interview for a secretary in Normandy for enigmatic insurance agency owner Louis Échard (Romain Duris). The interview was a disaster until Rose shows off her lightning fast typing skills.
Échard give Rose a one week trail and while her secretarial skills are still dreadful her typing remains impressive so Échard decides that Rose can keep her job if she enters and wins a typing contest.
The “zero to hero” premise is as old as the hills and is usually set in either the worlds of sports or music. If anything Populaire deserves plaudits for coming up with something different in speed typing which I doubt many of you could have ever imagined was such a competitive concern away from the secretary’s desk.
For his feature length directorial debut Régis Roinsard has brought this lesser known phenomenon to modern audiences in this colourful throwback to the light and airy feel good rom coms of the 1950’s, given that unique Gallic overhaul.
For the period this film is set in the old stereotype of plain, officious looking women with thick horn rimmed glasses as secretaries is alive and well with our humble heroine being the one to break the mould and bring a touch of meek chic to the role. Practicing on a typewriter that sits in the window of her father’s shop, Rose manages to achieve great speeds in her typing despite only using her forefingers.
In order to prepare Rose for the speed typing contests, Échard takes Rose back to basics and trains her using all ten of her fingers, using colour coded charts for her finger placements and going as far as to ask former flame Marie (Bérénice Bejo) to teach Rose how to play the piano in order to loosen up her fingers.
Where the story goes from here I am sure you can predict and it won’t be spoiling anything to say that you’d be correct. While the romance between Rose and Échard is as inevitable as half the cast smoking like chimneys, it takes a while to develop and Roinsard is keen to tease us into thinking it may not happen after all.
Échard has a complex about him, never recovering from a break-up with Marie from their younger days, hiding these feelings from her new husband, Échard’s best friend an American named Bob (Shaun Benson). We also learn that Échard was a keen sportsman but never achieved pole position thus his projecting his competitive aspirations onto his new hot prospect typist, while pushing his increasingly feelings for Rose into the background.
Because of the 50’s setting, the secretary stereotype is no the only one being dragged out here. Échard is the typical dashing, smartly dressed ladies man for whom looks are everything for both himself and the female company he keeps. Similarly the woman are all the homely types, like Marie who is often chained to the kitchen when not teaching her kids the piano, despite being the feisty type.
The older women are all stuck up and disapproving of the young un’s while back at Rose’s home village, things are simple and parochial. Rose is expected to marry a local lad at her father’s instruction, her disobedience resulting in a falling out between father and daughter. Such independence is frowned upon but Rose is undeterred.
Archaic attitudes aside this film is another example of the French transporting us back to a bygone period with complete verisimilitude in all aspects of the film’s presentation. The colour palette has that slight pale feel to recreate that veneer films had back in the day while the music soundtrack is faithful rendering of the whimsical orchestral scores that accompanied many a fluffy Hollywood comedy of the time.
The costumes are impeccably recreated as are the set designs are once again a tribute to the dedication to the attention to detail. Even the cast have mastered the body language and the movements of the people of the day to complete the illusion.
Leading the charge of fine performances is Déborah François who has the prefect wide eyed, girl next door aura for the innocent village girl Rose while also able to look an absolute knockout when glammed up once her fortunes improve. It’s not just her appearance that makes her such a convincing but her poise and comic timing help recreate fond memories of Rose’s idol Audrey Hepburn and similar icons of the period.
Romain Duris doesn’t quite succeed in being fully convincing as Échard despite the snappy suits and slicked back hair, but he does have a natural and joyous chemistry with François, that is played out in subtle but loving nods to the classic films of the period this is set in.
As enjoyable and worthwhile this film is one complaints for this reviewer – a love scene with a brief glimpse of nudity that feels incongruous in the context of what is otherwise a safe and family friendly rom-com. This could easily have been left at the big kiss to denote the eventual turning point of their relationship, instead it feels like a gratuitous stain on such a pleasant film.
What it may lack in surprises on the story front Populaire more than makes up for in its earnestness in delivering a loving homage to a cinema genre from yesteryear, that bubbles and fizzes with the same Joie de vivre as the period it is dedicated to.
5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
English Subtitles for Hard of Hearing
To Begin With
The Love Story
A Romantic and Sports Comedy
Rating – ****
Man In Black