The Movie Waffler New Release Review - Populaire | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Populaire

A klutzy secretary enters the world of competitive speed-typing in fifties France.

Directed by: Régis Roinsard
Starring: Romain Duris, Déborah François, Bérénice Bejo

Rose (Francois) is an awkward but pretty girl living with her widowed father in a small Northern French town in 1958. When she applies for a position as secretary to handsome local insurance man Louis (Duris), her impressive typing speed gets her the job. Once in the position, Louis discovers Rose is a disaster, thanks to her clumsiness. Her one skill, that of typing at an incredibly rapid pace, intrigues Louis however, who insists she enter a local speed-typing competition. When she succeeds at this, Louis devises a rigorous training schedule for Rose, with the aim of entering the national championships.
The idea of taking an obscure sporting or competitive event as the backdrop for a comedy has been milked to death in recent comedies. We've seen figure-skating in 'Blades of Glory', ping-pong in 'Balls of Fury', and dodgeball in, well, 'Dodgeball'. None of those movies worked for one very simple reason; they revolved around one joke and died stretching it out to feature length. With this knowledge, I expected little from Roinsard's debut feature. Thankfully, he's used the concept of speed-typing as no more than a "MacGuffin". It's simply the backdrop to what is, essentially, a homage to the technicolor world of fifties Hollywood.
France never had this sort of cinema back then and there's a sense that Roinsard is trying to rectify this. The film is awash with references to that golden age of entertainment, from the primary colors of MGM musicals to a Saul Bass influenced credit sequence. There's even a 'Vertigo' homage which, unlike last year's 'The Artist', pays respect in the correct manner. Duris and Francois are playing the sort of roles Rock Hudson and Doris Day would have taken over half a century ago. Due to its fifties setting, accusations of male chauvinism may be leveled but, thankfully, Roinsard makes no concessions to modern sensibilities, (unlike Spielberg's 'Lincoln'). His film bears no resemblance to reality, instead it's set in the world of the cinema. In real-life, Normandy is a drab, grey region, lacking the brightness and color on display here. This is what movies of this nature do, they transport you from the humdrum of reality into a world where something as simple as a room of frantically typing secretaries can explode with the energy of a Busby Berkeley dance number. In French, the word "entertainment" literally translates as "diversion" and, as diversions go, 'Populaire' is one this year's best.
C'est le divertissement!

Eric Hillis