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Populaire

Movie Information

The Story: A young woman in 1958 France is a lousy secretary but a whiz at typing, which causes her employer to train her as a champion in typing competitions. The Lowdown: An unusual subject, gorgeous period detail and a terrific cast raise this romantic comedy (with subtitles, yes) to the level of something very pleasant and entertaining.
Score:

Genre: Romantic Comedy
Director: Régis Roinsard
Starring: Romain Duris, Déborah François, Bérénice Bejo, Shaun Benson, Mélanie Bernier
Rated: R

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

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

5 thoughts on “Populaire

  1. Jeremy Dylan

    The feel of the film is somewhat similar to the overlooked 2003 romantic comedy Down with Love

    And on to my to-watch list this goes.

  2. Ken Hanke

    The last showing of this in Asheville is underway as we speak. In other words, if you’re reading this, you’ve missed it.

  3. Ken Hanke

    Possibly, though of course, Mandy Lane and Concussion have a slight edge in not being subtitled. That they haven’t been much promoted is another matter.

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