Wednesday, June 12, 2013

THE STROLLER STRATEGY: Smart, funny, sweet French rom-com opens; plus a quick Q&A with its star, Raphaël Personnaz

Ah, those French: They're at it again, giving the world another fine romantic comedy that offers the usual fun, class and pizzazz, but also a little more charm and melancholy than this genre often brings us. The movie is THE STROLLER STRATEGY (La stratégie de la poussette), the first full-lengther from co-writer (with Louis-Paul Desanges) and director Clément Michel, a fellow who, I am told by the movie's star, comes from more than a decade laboring as a well-regarded writer and director in the legitimate theater. (The movie also inaugurates a new series, Rialto Premieres, from that company, Rialto Pictures, that has long given us some of the great film classics. Now, it seems, they're also premiering new -- and if this film is any indication -- smart, art-house/mainstream movies.)

M. Michel, shown at right, appears to have done his homework regarding movies vs. theater and has either himself mastered the necessary pacing, visuals, editing and so on (or has surrounded himself with all the right people) to concoct and execute a first-rate rom-com. From the start, he manages to do something that I don't recall seeing before (or certainly not done this well): presenting us with an entire history of a relationship -- first meeting to the break-up -- within the film's first half-dozen minutes. This is clever, engrossing, funny, full-bodied stuff, and it is but a taste of what's to come.

To come is the story of how this young man, Thomas (shown above), partly by chance and partly via the strategy of the title, hopes to win back his beloved, who had parted ways with him in part due to his lack of interest in their having a child together. The ins-and-outs of all this are more fun to see and be surprised at than to be told about here. Suffice it to say that Michel and Desanges know how to keep their plot hopping and their laughs coming, while never allowing their characters to stray too far from the humanity that keeps us firmly on their side.

Comparisons have been made to Three Men and A Baby, both the French and Hollywood versions, but this film is infinitely more interesting and nuanced than was that crass concoction that cashed in on the supposedly new-found connection between men and babies. As if. The Stroller Strategy cast helps enormously, too. The lovers are played by Raphaël Personnaz (above and below) and Charlotte Lebon (below, right), and both provide more than enough sex appeal, charm, humor and intelligence to make ideal rom-com headliners.

The Stroller Strategy, running just 90 minutes, opens in Manhattan this Friday, June 14, at the Angelika Film Center, and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Music Hall 3 on June 28. As new playdates appear, they'll be posted here: click, and then click on IN THEATERS.


Back in March of this year, during Rendez-vous With French CinemaTrustMovies (whose words are in boldface, below) got to meet and spend a few minutes with the movie's gifted, extremely attractive and fluent-in-English star Raphaël Personnaz, at right, whose words are shown below in standard type). The first thing we want to know is the pronunciation of his name and what those two little dots over the "e" mean. Raphaël laughs and explains that they have to do with pronunciation: 

When you have those two dots in French, it means that you have to pronounce that letter. So then, it is Ra-pha-el, rather than only Raphal, which it would be without those dots.

Gotcha. It turns out that I have seen you in a lot more movies than I had realized. But I didn't remember you in all of them.

The Princess of Montpensier?

Yes, but I would certainly remember you in that! Your character (seen in the photo below) was the one I found the most interesting in the film because he seems particularly intelligent and careful. And of course he later becomes ever more important. He seems to understand better than anyone else what is happening and what he himself wants out of it all.

Yes -- and so he becomes the King! In the script he has this irony about things, too, which was interesting to play. Because of his young age, I think this was the strength of the movie --

They were ALL so young! --

Yes and this is important. At around this same time there was this other movie, with Russell Crowe in it -- Robin Hood -- in which the characters were all so old!

In reality most of them would have been dead by that age.

Of course.

Oh -- and you were in one of my favorite films, Blame it on Fidel, but I didn't even see you in that one.

(He laughs) It was such a small role!

Ah, and also you were in another movie I loved but I didn't realize it: Housewarming (Travaux) with Carole Bouquet.

Yes, and in another very small role.

Ah, but you have now just finished working with Daniel Auteuil? And as one of the stars.

Yes, in his new films Fanny and Marius (shown below)

And Cesar?

Yes, but we have not filmed that yet. Maybe in about one year.

Did you see The Well-Digger's Daughter?

Yes, yes.

Is this one in that same wonderful style. I just loved that film.

Yes, it is. It is the same author, Marcel Pagnol.

It's so French. French countryside!

Of course, and it is from the south of France. Daniel Auteuil is from that same area.

Really? And are you, as well?
I am from the other side of the south: the Southwest. Daniel is from the Southeast.

What role do you play? 

I play Marius, the son of Cesar.

So you are the young leading man, the same character as played by Horst Buchholz in the Joshua Logan film, I think.

Yes, the guy who wants to leave.

So tell me about The Stroller Strategy -- which is a film I just learned of and so have not been able to see yet.

This is real kind of comedy. Not so commercial because in a way the characters in this movie are not freaks, they don't have so much the perspective of the future. It is more about the situation. I think this movie is really of its time, and in a way I think this character is a little bit like Charlie Chaplin. We laugh about him but he also have something sad in him.

This will be very interesting to see.

Yes, and it is the first movie of this director, who is really talented. He comes from legitimate theater, after fifteen years of writing and directing plays. When I first met him, he told me that his reference for this film was Garden State.

Hmmm...  I didn't like that movie all that much.

No, no, me too. But what was interesting was not to have all these stylish shots. Instead you have to have, as the Portuguese say, something melancholic.

Ah -- all this sounds pretty interesting, so I will look forward to seeing The Stroller Strategy as soon as I can. And thank you so much for your time, Raphaël!

Editor's note: There's more here, but we'll 
get the rest of the interview up in the next week or so, 
once Raphaël's other new film, Three Worlds, opens. 

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