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Posts Tagged ‘Romain Duris’

Me, in the office, the other day:

‘You know, can’t decide whether to go and see Mood Indigo or the Inbetweeners sequel.’

Bloke what inhabits next desk: ‘Mood Indigo? What’s that then?’

‘You know, that French arthousey thing. We saw the trailer before Guardians of the Galaxy last week, remember?’

‘Really?’

‘Yeah, it had all that surreal stuff in it… Audrey Tatou… the couple getting married under water…’

‘Oh God yeah… who is it?’

‘That French guy… Michel… er… Michel…’

‘Oh, Michel Gondry. You kind of know what you think you’re going to get from his films, they’re very…’

‘Yeah. But I want to see what the reviews are like on Inbetweeners 2, plus it’s probably going to be packed out on the first day. I remember going to see Cowboys and Aliens the night Inbetweeners came out and some guy was trying to sneak his grandchildren into see it even though they were clearly underage.’

‘Yeah, well, be interesting to see if they take the opportunity to do some jokes about the fact it’s a bunch of guys in their late twenties playing teenagers. There’s some potential there for comedy.’

‘Mmm, not sure. The Inbetweeners does ironic, it doesn’t really do knowing.’

My respect for Bloke on Next Desk is considerable, and was so even before I learned he once met Jason Statham socially (used to work with Mr Statham’s one-time girlfriend), but I remain to be convinced of the wisdom of making The Inbetweeners 2, let alone going to see it, so off I trotted to see Mood Indigo. If nothing else this proves that my unerring instinct for making bad decisions is still fully operational.

moodindigo

Mood Indigo is based on a 1947 novel written by Boris Vian, the English translation of which is various entitled Froth on the Daydream or Foam on the Daze. You may be wondering just what any of those titles actually mean, in which case I wish you good luck with your wonderment, as I am supremely unequipped to provide any kind of explanation.

Romain Duris plays Colin, a carefree young independently-wealthy Parisian. He enjoys spending time with his philosophy-loving friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh) and his private chef Nicolas (Omar Sy). On discovering Chick and Nicolas have both embarked on the adventure that is romance, Colin decides to do the same, and after meeting the charmingly quirky Chloe (Audrey Tatou, who’s basically giving the same performance she always gives in every film she’s ever made), they embark on a breathless, whirlwind love affair. But when Chloe falls seriously ill with a life-threatening condition, it threatens to undermine their happiness forever…

So what, you may be thinking, that doesn’t sound particularly distinctive: standard issue romantic weepy, so what. Fair enough, the substance of the story is nothing particularly unusual. But there is a sense in which the actual plot of Mood Indigo is the least notable thing about it, for this is how a fairly typical scene from early in the film plays out:

Nicolas has baked Colin and Chick an enormous decorated cake. To make space to allow him to serve it, he clears the existing plates and other crockery off the table with a shovel. Colin is delighted with the cake and insists Nicolas joins them in partaking of it. Nicolas initially demurs. Then the front door rings, and as usual this is a trigger for the doorbell to turn into a six-legged mechanical insect which scuttles across the floor. Somebody whacks the doorbell-insect with a blunt implement, causing it to split into many smaller doorbell-insects which pursue and devour each other until the last survivor resumes its place on the wall. The person at the door turns out to be Nicolas, who has gone off duty to eat the cake.

The cake is cut and proves to be stuffed with pink cotton wool, along with a couple of bottles of the scent of famous philosopher Jean-Sol Partre (no, Michel, stop: my sides). Chick is a massive Partre fan and guzzles down one of the bottles eagerly. Meanwhile Colin has received a telegram from Chloe arranging a date, and…

Oh, you get the idea. The wild visual invention and whimsical surrealism of Mood Indigo is, well, relentless. My heart began to sink before the end of the opening credits as I realised just exactly what kind of a film this was going to be: probably about the moment when I realised Colin shared his apartment with a mouse, realised by an actor in an utterly unconvincing mouse costume. Then came the moment when it was revealed that Colin’s preferred method of emptying his bathtub is to drill through the bottom and allow the water to irrigate the plants in the flat below, or the revelation that his great invention is the pianocktail, a musical instrument that prepares a drink based on what tune you play on it.

Now, please don’t get the idea that I’m against visual flair or style or wild invention in films: of course I’m not. And, on some level, the sheer work-rate of Mood Indigo in this department is quite impressive. But there’s so much of it, and most of it just feels like directorial showing-off rather than anything meaningful. Gondry isn’t using the surrealism to illustrate the mood of the characters or the theme of the story – it just seems to be there because he thinks it’s clever or funny. Maybe this is a French thing, because the two French guys on the end of my row were killing themselves laughing most of the way through. I think I cracked a smile maybe two or three times all the way through.

The whimsy doesn’t even let up as the story goes on and the mood of the piece turns much darker than you might expect: the film’s unorthodoxy extends beyond surrealism, to ripping up the traditional romantic-comedy-weepy story-structure. The problem is that I found the studied non-naturalism of the story made it impossible for me to engage with it on an emotional level – unless you count being irked to the point of severe annoyance by endless, pointless surreal sight-gags. As a result I actually found it quite a struggle to stay awake to the end of Mood Indigo, which isn’t something that often happens to me, and never during a film that I’m genuinely enjoying.

Then again, this is a film from a very particular culture, and the product of a extremely distinctive sensibility. Your mileage may vary. But for me, the problem isn’t just that the visual style doesn’t always suit the story, it’s the two are frequently pulling in opposite directions, crippling Mood Indigo as a genuine story, as opposed to a collection of extravagant visual quirks. Not that this necessarily guarantees that Inbetweeners 2 will be a better film: but one way or another, I can’t imagine it being close to as annoying as Mood Indigo.

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We have reached one of those moments in the year when the multiplexes down my way, given the eternal choice between quantity and quality have opted for… well, neither, if we’re completely honest. Perhaps there are a few good films showing within easy reach that aren’t aimed at children: the thing is, I’ve seen them all already.

I did consider going further afield and had considered heading out of town (two bus-rides, a long walk and/or some hitch-hiking) to catch a promising new film about some pole-dancing vampires. But in the end I couldn’t be bothered and ended up going to see Regis Roinsard’s Populaire at the art-house instead.

Populaire-Poster

Listings information for Populaire, no matter what its source, uniformly announces that this film contains ‘a moderate sex scene’. Well, I suppose that’ll do until a really good one comes along. The other common reference point everyone is using when talking about it is Mad Men, which is just one more example of a popular and critically acclaimed TV series I’ve never actually seen and am not qualified to talk about (I haven’t seen the one about the dwarf playing musical chairs, either). You know, I’m getting the impression I should’ve gone with the vampire pole-dancers after all.

I suspect the Mad Men references are due to this film’s 1950s setting, although most of it does take place in France. Deborah Francois deploys a performance packed with weapons-grade winsomeness as Rose, an innocent country girl whose life’s ambition is to become a secretary. Despite being quite phenomenally clumsy and naive, she nevertheless finds a job with small-town insurance man Louis (Romain Duris). As it happens, Louis’ best friend (Shaun Benson) is American, and his best friend’s wife is played by Berenice Bejo from The Artist, both of which should help with that tres important commerce international.

Louis has, of course, got an ulterior motive for taking Rose on: he has discerned she has phenomenal potential as a speed typist and resolves to become her coach and train her to conquer the world, one key-stroke at a time. Needless to say the obvious chemistry going off between them cannot be allowed to get in the way of the coach-athlete relationship…

Yes, welcome back to cinema’s most utterly predictable genre, for we are in the world of the rom-com. Two extremely beautiful young people meet each other, feel an instant mutual attraction, and then spend the next hour and a half acting like idiots in order to defer their climactic moment of coming together (is this a good moment to bring up that ‘moderate sex scene’ again? ‘Moderate’ is probably selling it a little short, but I digress) until the end of the film .

Some of the convolutions the plot is put through to this end are rather contrived, resulting in a film which outstays its welcome a tiny amount, but the whole film is such a frothy, feather-light confection that it almost feels churlish to criticise it on these grounds. Audiences could be excused for feeling souffled alive by a film which departs from conventional reality very early on and never really returns to it. (There are a couple of more serious character beats along the way, but these are sensibly kept understated.)

However, it is hard to overstate quite how winningly well-put-together Populaire is, with nicely judged turns from all the leads, but especially Francois: she delivers a performance of quite colossal charm and sweetness, which more than makes up for any predictability in the plot. The film also makes a real virtue of the competitive element of its story: there’s something deeply, slyly funny about the way all the traditional movie cliches for depicting sporting clashes are repurposed to cover competitive typing – and yet the final scenes of Rose taking on the hissable American world champ (naturally, I will not spoil the result for you) do manage to be genuinely stirring stuff. It also manages to seem rather accessible to an international audience without being obvious or cynical about it.

The 50s setting means it all looks very stylish, too, although given the nature of the story I don’t think they had a great deal of latitude there. We could, I suppose, discuss the sexual politics inherent in a story where the gender roles are quite so rigid as they are here, to say nothing of what’s going on with a character as smart and strong as Rose being so determined to become a secretary. But, as I say, this is such a floaty little confection that we’d be in real butterfly-on-a-wheel territory to start criticising it in those terms. As I have had cause to ponder in another context in recent days, one can take gender politics much too seriously when it comes to escapist entertainment.

Populaire may have come up short on the pole dancing vampire front, but I did enjoy it very much; rather more, in fact, than I’d expected to. It is not deep, it is not heavy, it is never what you could honestly call surprising or unpredictable. But it is enormously likeable and entertaining, with the kind of eye-opening central performance that major careers are built on. Deborah Francois is surely one to watch: look out for her being wasted in a knuckle-dragging English-language genre movie somewhere near you, soon.

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