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Star – Romain Duris
Genre – World Cinema > Comedy
Run Time – 111 minutes
Certificate – 18
Country – France
Awards – 1 Wins & 9 Nominations
Amazon – £5.00DVD (Blue Ray £6.99)
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So Populaire, the 2012 French remake of a 1957 French film that was called something else I can’t recall, Populaire relating to a make of typewriter. The new version received multiple César Award nominations but not much attention outside of France. It’s a subtitled Technicolor blast of nostalgia made for French people to remember the old Paris they long for of handsome cigarette smoking men and beautiful stylish women, not a city full of Arabs and West Africans they rebel against today. I did not see one black or Arab person in this film. It’s quite sad how racist the French are.
It stars the rather excellent Romain Duris, a French actor who is super cool in films like ‘The Beat that Skipped my Heart’ and The Big Picture. The romantic female lead is Déborah François and the third party on this love tryst and a typewriter that comes between them. Yes, a typewriter. You will see why when you watch this, of course. If you love foreign films then you should watch this. It makes the heart sing for a filmmaking style long forgotten. If you like typewriters you should watch this even more.
The 'AZERTY' keyboard is a popular style used especially among European-based French speakers English typewriters use QWERTY. Switzerland and Luxembourg use a variant called 'QWERTZ'.
Romain Duris as Louis Échard
Déborah François as Rose Pamphyle
Bérénice Bejo as Marie Taylor
Shaun Benson as Bob Taylor
Hugo De Sousa as Joe Taylor
Mélanie Bernier as Annie Leprince Ringuet
Féodor Atkine as André Japy
Nicolas Bedos as Gilbert Japy
Eddy Mitchell as Georges Échard
Miou-Miou as Madeleine Échard
Jeanne Cohendy as Françoise
Caroline Tillette as La Vamp
Frédéric Pierrot as Jean Pamphyle
Marius Colucci as Lucien Échard
Emeline Bayart as Jacqueline Échard
Yannik Landrein as Léonard Échard
Nastassja Girard as Evelyne Échard
Dominique Reymond as Madamme Shorofsky
It’s the late 1950s in France…
Pretty and clumsey twentysomething Rose Pamphyle (Déborah François) lives with her widowed father (Frédéric Pierrot) in a small rural town and is destined to marry a son of the local mechanic. She works in the family shop and desperate to escape her humdrum life. Rose travels out of town and applies for a secretarial job with an insurance agency run by the handsome and well groomed Louis Échard (Romain Duris). Louis gives her a week’s trial after he learns that Rose can type with extraordinary speed using only two fingers, on of many of her quirks. Rose is elated and dreams of an exciting and glamorous future.
After one week of her clumsiness he tells her he will only keep her on if she does him something in return. It’s not to sleep with him but to compete in a speed-typing competition. Louis competed at many sporting events when he was young and sees potential in his ditsy but sweet secretary. While Rose makes the finals, she ultimately loses her first typing competition by not breaking 400WPM. Louis is not deterred and begins training Rose to become the fastest typist in France, and beyond, putting her up in his big house to perfect her skills. He makes a bet with his best friend, Bob Taylor (Shaun Benson), who is married to his old sweetheart, Marie (Bérénice Bejo) that Rose can win the regional competition.
He begins to teach her to touch type with all ten fingers and insists she take piano lessons from Marie to strengthen her fingers and rhythm. The increasingly confident Rose does indeed win her second competition, becoming the fastest in her home region of Lower Normandy. It becomes obvious to all that Louis fancies Rose and vice versa, but Louis insists that a coach mustn't distract his student. Through to the national finals they travel to Paris, the city of love, but still Louis can’t find the courage to fall for her as the final approaches and his father standards hold him back from being himself.
I really enjoyed this and a good old burst of retro French cinema I imagine a lot of people loved at the time. It has the subtle sexiness and clean-cut style of Mad Men meets the innocent romantic comedy of the period. It’s a love story wrapped around this typewriter metaphor thing and well scripted and acted for a romantic comedy of this type. You will fall for both the attractive and likeable leads. Sadly its way too long and gets baggy towards the end and that will annoy those getting involved in the romantic side of things. It’s predictable of course on the love story. You may not know but one third of secretary’s sleep with their boss and many admit to taking a secretarial job to meet a wealthy man of means. 40% of us sleep with someone at work at some point.
Its €14m Euro budget pulled in a healthy $18.4 million around the world and not bad for a foreign film not entered into the big American film festivals. It’s well paced with admirable style, with a glossy, Technicolor production design and feel that so evokes that period when men were men and women were subservient and knew their place, allowing for that more frivolous and comedic sweetness to evolve. The subtitles are straightforward so no worries there. You should simply watch this film is you want to be happy and remember how straightforward life used to be without all those distractions and technologies that now keep us apart.
Imdb.com – 7.0/10.0 (votes)
Rottentomatos.com –75% critic’s approval
Metacritic.com – 57% critic’s approval
Seattle Times –‘As romantic comedy it's uneven, but as an ode to something long gone, "Populaire" hits the right notes’.
The NY Post –‘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’.
The Seattle Times –‘It's a gorgeous picture that's highly amusing, allowing viewers to lose themselves in the fantasy of love, rivalry, and typing. Yes, typing. Any film that can make typewriters as cool as hot rods deserves a look’..
Red Eye –‘After all those words pounded onto the typewriter, this throwback finds a way to capture the big L in any language.
St Louis Dispatch –‘It's neatly formatted, but if there's a message in the margins of this manuscript, "Populaire" doesn't spell it out’.
Independent Inquiry –‘Even when there's tragedy around the turn, it doesn't matter. Populaire plays like a musical - you expect anyone, at any time, to break into song’.
Boston Globe –‘Roinsard labors mightily to eke laughs and excitement out of '50s secretaries in Technicolor dresses, towering heels, and awkward hairdos hammering away at keyboards, with limited success’.
San Francisco Bugle –‘Is this remake really necessary? Maybe not, but to worry about that is to risk missing out on a lot of fun’.
Back in the day, it was every woman's dream to become a secretary; to assist and travel with powerful men of the corporate world, filing away all the important papers, typing up pages and pages of documents, taking calls and receiving messages etc. It was the best job any woman could ever dream of, and it would appear this trend was also in style in 1950s post-War France.
Rose Pamphyle (Déborah François) is a very ordinary grocer's daughter who longs to work in the city at a fancy office instead of being stuck in her cold and distant father's market for the rest of her life, checking on stocks. She travels to Normandy, filled with dreams all women of that era had, but with very little experience to qualify her for the role, it's obvious she is way out of her league when she sees a long line of bossy well-dressed know-it-alls applying for the exact same job. There is a long line of potential candidates, all of them dressed and primed perfectly to look the part.
The boss is Louis Échard (Romain Duris), a handsome, charismatic insurance salesman, who takes one look at Rose and determines correctly that she's an absolute klutzy disaster when it comes to being a secretary. But then he sees her clicking away at a typewriter. The incredible speed at which she types, even when she's only using her index fingers, is something Louis notices instantly, and he decides he can do something with her amazing talent. And so after a brief misunderstanding where she assumes he wants sex out of her, begins their hardcore training for a regional speed typing competition. She first needs to use all her ten fingers correctly, and then she's given numerous classic novels to type out word for word. Unbelievably, Rose has absolutely no problem with her boss quite blatantly using her. Sure he puts a roof over her head and the two of them play along to a nice enough domestic life, but the way he speaks to her and orders her around like a chauvinistic prat, you wonder why she sticks around towards the beginning of their relationship. Or perhaps this kind of casual superior complex is hinting towards how men generally behaved back in the day (see "Mad Men" for further evidence).
It boasts a wacky, farce-like premise, every bit as eccentric as the best French romantic comedies, and with its effective period mood, and light colourful touches here and there, the film is incredibly successful in setting this up as an entirely believable and convincing scenario. It's incredibly entertaining, and never before has speed typing been seriously seen as a competitive sport. When the various "races" get going, the regional, national, and eventually the international one, they are as tense as any race you can imagine. The thundering noise as the women furiously press down on their typewriters' keyboards, the surprisingly large crowd cheering and roaring their endless support, the sliding of every typewriter as they finish a line, and the changing over of the bits of paper, it's on a much bigger scale than what's originally anticipated. It's clearly a big deal in the "Populaire" universe, and the audience has no difficulty going along with the craze. The women are sat neatly in sports halls and arenas, and as they face off against one another, their steely, determined eyes to type as many words as possible burn with passion and competitive energy.
What finally happens between the two leads is hardly an element of surprise, nor is the overall result of the competitions. François and Duris have a natural charming chemistry, and their sugary-sweet dynamic is a part of what makes this highly watchable. Duris, as likable and amusing as ever with his icy cold exterior although actually warm and frothy on the inside, provides the perfect counterpart for François' clumsy, quirky and adorable village girl. The process of developing their romance cleverly touches on some more serious issues using its effective supporting cast to make the most of the well-rounded ensemble. Bérénice Bejo of "The Artist" fame takes on the most prominent subplot, as Louis' childhood sweetheart who may or may not have had something between them. World War II and its aftermath is also an issue talked about here, something that further enriches the characters here.
Although everything is very well dressed up to look grand, pretty and perfect, the film is not afraid to hint at various underlying sadness and challenges each character needs to overcome to make their relationship work. For her, there's the quickly growing fame that surrounds her talent, one that gradually steals her away from having a normal life. The constant attention from the press, the height of success she reaches obviously puts a strain on what is happening between the two of them. Whereas for him, he has pressure from his family to be a better, more cut-throat and successful businessman, as well as having trouble opening up his feelings. There is a particularly effective family dinner sequence in which all the drama and conflict come to surface with passive-aggressive action coming most noticeably from the patriarch - Rose diligently stands up for the man she's falling for and at the end of it all, there's a fairy-tale-like dance scene.
Which is what this essentially boils down to - showing the rags-to-riches tale of Rose Pamphyle, it's all very neat, skips over a lot of the heavy, serious ideas, until it gets to a rousing finale of big wins for both characters. But switching comfortably back and forth between well-measured comedy as well as engaging human drama that nicely strike a balance, here is an easily enjoyable, highly rewarding feel-good movie experience that deals with the most unexpected "sport". And for anyone who wants to argue that this isn't a proper event, watch and experience the sheer raw intensity involved with what goes into the world of speed-typing - you'll be amazed at just how exciting everything can be; and before you know it, you'll be cheering Rose on for victory. An American remake has been planned and it will only be a matter of time before that hits the screens - so before that happens, make sure you check out the original. Because as a rule, they're always better.