Tuesday, September 3, 2013

DVDebut: Léa Fazer's philosophical rom-com of the business world, WHAT IF...?

TrustMovies had never heard of this smart little French film till now. Turns out WHAT IF...? (Notre Univers Impitoyable) was made in 2007 and released in 2008 (only in France and Belgium, then in Mexico in 2010), in addition to being shown at a few festivals world-wide. Canada got its DVD of the film in 2009, no doubt due to its large French-speaking population, and now we here in the USA get our own chance, thanks to First Run Features, the noted distributor which, in addition to its fine roster of documentaries, releases an interesting narrative movie every now and again.

What If...? is written and directed by Léa Fazer (shown at right), a Swiss filmmaker of whom most of us will not have heard, which is a shame, as her film is well made, features a nifty and attractive cast, and deals with themes that have only grown more timely and important in the succeeding years following its original release.

The tale here is of a young, bright, good-looking couple, Margo and Victor, unmarried as yet but who are both successful lawyers at a large and important law firm. Within the first few minutes of the movie, Fazer sees to it that one of her themes -- the unhealthy stress involved in big business -- comes to the fore, as suddenly and comically one of the higher-ups has a heart attack.

A new partner is immediately needed, and the position will go to either Victor (the late Jocelyn Quivrin) above and below, left) or Margo (the ubiquitous Alice Taglioni, above and below, right). The two seem genuinely supportive of each other and feel that they can't lose, since either one or the other will gain the promotion and thus their life together will be better and easier. Oh, really?

What Ms Fazer has up her sleeve has been compared to the gimmick of a film like Sliding Doors. I don't think the comparison is quite apt because the idea behind one film contradicts that of the other. Both use the device that if anything is changed in the scenario, the end result might be quite different. But while, as I recall, Sliding Doors relied on this difference to make all the difference, Ms Fazer places the onus more on character than on chance. Things happen -- he wins the slot, or she does -- and then other things change (success breeds the usual: power and its misuse, contempt, assumptions) but this change happens no matter which of our pair is on top.

The filmmaker's style is to remain quite matter-of-fact; the change from his rise to hers and back and forth is done briskly and immediately. No frou-frou here. This forces us to consider what is happening and why. Powerful jobs require lots of extra hours, and retaining that power usually means a certain amount of duplicity -- on all fronts.

Feminism raises its head, too (the scene in which Margo must serve coffee, along with the consequences, is hair-raisingly funny), but the filmmaker does not let this in any way control her movie. She's fair-handed to a fault.

You could, if you were inclined, take What If...? as an attack on capitalism (look away, Kyle Smith!) but Fazer doesn't insist on this, either. It's the people here who matter most, and Taglinoni makes a lovely heroine, even as her versatility (Grande école,  The Valet, Paris-Manhattan and The Prey) continues to grow. Quivrin, who was clearly on the road to stardom before his untimely death, is equally good -- as are Pascalle Arbillot, (above, right, with kids) as Margo's sister; Scali Delpeyrat, very funny as sis' possible new beau; and Thierry Lhermitte (below, left) as the law firm's boss.

No claims here for the film's greatness, but it makes a very nice addition to your "Movies Look at the World of Business" collection. The new DVD of What If...? (in French with English subtitles, running time 84 minutes) hits U.S. streets today, Tuesday, September 3, for sale and/or rental, and eventual VOD and streaming, one hopes....

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