Populaire is the first feature from a fellow named Régis Roinsard, and an impressive debut it is, even though its U.S. theatrical prospects are slim to the point of nonexistent. The film has been shunted onto a double bill with Haute Cuisine — based on nothing other than the fact they’re both French. Well, that and the fact that the Weinstein boys own the rights to both, and my guess is that this bum-rushed release package is meant to discharge a contractual commitment to release them theatrically in the U.S. without any concern over whether they make a nickel. Based on the first three shows on Friday at The Carolina, even that nickel is pretty elusive. The only folks watching them were critics. I hope they picked up, but I’m just about positive this will be a one-week engagement.
Normally, we’d be reviewing both films, but I was told on Friday that we didn’t have the space and that something had to be cut—and Haute Cuisine was the victim. I did see the last 15-20 minutes of Haute Cuisine, which looked harmless enough to me, but Mr. Souther saw the whole thing and announced that he “pretty much hated it.” (Hate seems extreme for this kind of movie, but no matter.) In any case, Populaire is a clever movie of considerable wit and charm. Its only fault is that it could have been a bit shorter and benefitted from the trim. Still, it’s time well spent.
What makes Populaire something out of the ordinary — apart from the undeniable chemistry between stars Romain Duris and Déborah François — is its marvelously evoked 1958 period setting and its cockeyed story. (The feel of the film is somewhat similar to the overlooked 2003 romantic comedy Down with Love.) The title refers to a model of typewriter, which is apt because the film is built around the improbable world of typing competitions (who knew these existed?). Popular French star Romain Duris plays Louis Échard, a businessman who ends up with Rose Pamphyle (François) as his secretary. The problem is that she’s an incredible klutz and a disaster of a secretary except for one thing: she’s a world-class typist. Her strange typing skills (she is self-taught) bring out the competitor in him — reminding him of his days as an athlete — and he becomes obsessed with turning Rose into a championship typist.
Except for embellishments, that’s really about it. It’s so well done and the characters are created with such unusual depth that it’s enough to make Populaire a film worth seeing. As it stands, it’ll be playing at 1:20 and 6 p.m. through Thursday at The Carolina (and you can hang around and see Haute Cuisine afterward, if you like). Catch it if you can. You won’t be sorry. If you miss it, put it on your list of DVDs to watch for. Rated R for some sexuality.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas