Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Rendez-vous With French Cinema opens with a choice bit of rom-com-cum-history: Régis Roinsard's POPULAIRE

It's that time of year again, when French film takes over the Film Society of Lincoln Center, resulting in, again, the most popular foreign film program of any the FSLC offers: Rendez-vous With French Cinema. This year's annual series, presented in conjunction with Unifrance, should prove no different, and in fact, just might outdo past years (were it not for our continuing crummy economy in which disposable income, except for the wealthy, seems a thing of the past).

Still we must be grateful that Rendez-vous has grown to now inhabit four venues around the city: two at Lincoln Center, another in the West Village, and the last in Brooklyn. You can find them all by clicking here.  Further, you can view all the films in the current series, too, via a single click, followed by another on any of the movies that interest you.

For the first time in 20 years, Trust Movies is not attending this year's Rendez-vous, with the exception of the press screening for the opening night movie, Régis Roinsard's unusual and generally delight-ful rom-com POPULAIRE. But don't let my lack of time and inability to fit my 6'8" frame into the ridiculously designed seating area of the new Elinor Bunin Munro Film Center -- I've had to give up on that place, as have other extra-tall friends of mine -- stop you normal folk from attending this festival full of all kind of new (plus a few classic) French films.

Populaire is yet another in a long line of frothy but sophisticated French romantic comedies, brought to perky and very pleasurable life by M. Roinsard (shown at right), and if you do not get to see it during Rendez-vous, never fear. Just as with last year's opening night selection, The Intouchables, The Weinstein Company has picked up this year's movie for distribution, as well. Look for a summer opening and pretty good box-office grosses, I surmise.

What immediately sets Populaire apart from the pack is its time-frame: late-1950s Paris, when being a secretary was a huge step up for most young ladies. (Was France a very sexist country? Bet your bon-bons, honey!) And so we have a smart and pretty young woman who also happens to be able to type rather quickly (the wonderfully versatile Déborah François, above, right, of Student Services and Please, Please Me!) who goes to work for a handsome but sexist boss (Romain Duris, above, left, at his most charming and flustered).

From there we get to typing championships (above: who knew?), pretty-in-pink advertisements (below, and deliciously French), early corporate sponsorships, and the meaning of love and commitment.

One of the most interesting of the movie's touches is introducing an American character (Shaun Benson), a left-over from WWII who has married a local girl (the beauteous Bérénice Bejo, below, from The Artist, A Knight's Tale and the first OSS 117) and settled happily in France. We rarely see anything like this fellow in French film, and it adds to both the novelty and the reality of M. Roinsard's enterprise. (Mr. Benson is given one of the film's finest and final jokes, a very smart one that he carries off with the proper aplomb.)

Duris and François (below) prove aces together, creating an odd chemistry that keeps their connection bubbling with possibilities. In terms of morality, time period and situation, the filmmaker seems honest, as well, and if the movie did not set its own home box-office ablaze, as some had expected, this may be due to the inability of France's young people, not unlike our own, to understand or care about a time period before computers and cell phones, when young women had not nearly the choices available as they possess today.

For the rest of us, Populaire should prove great fun and an often dazzling walk down the memory lane of fashion, hair styles and automobiles -- not to mention typewriters -- even if most of our memories will skew American rather than French.

As I mentioned, the movie is scheduled for summer release this coming July. So, if you miss the Rendez-vous screenings, stick this one on your movies-to-see list now.

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