Populaire : An unmissable vintage eye-candy – Long live the feel-good cinema

By Bertille de Lestrade

Longing for a real feel-good movie ? Look no further : Populaire is finally coming to town. If the previously reviewed Something in the Air’s display of the 70’s in France was a bit of a self-indulgent bore, here is a film that features the 50’s in all their glorious colors and music, directed with obvious pleasure by first time film-maker and specialist of the era Régis Roinsard.

Populaire poster

Populaire poster

Populaire tells the story of Rose Pamphyle, daughter of a crabby shopkeeper, who escapes her small town housewife destiny to follow her dream : becoming a secretary. Despite her natural clumsiness and serious lack of experience, insurer Louis Echard will hire her under one condition : Rose has to put her oustanding typing gift to good use and enter the local championship. Why not take the world together?

« Did that really exist ? » a lot of people wonder when discovering the little known discipline : it sure did, and actually gave Régis Roinsard the idea of making Populaire, as he was watching a documentary about the history of type-writers and caught a first glimpse of these international typing-speed competitions. Fascinated, he immediately sensed a strong cinematic potential. Sounds boring ? I promise you that it’s not, for the good reason that Roinsard approached his subject like he would have any sport : practise, coaching, tournament adrenaline, it’s all there, and the visual result is indeed a joyful screen treat. A lover of the 50’s, Roinsard also did an impeccable work on reproducing the period and its wonderful aesthetics, aiming for a mix of authencity and popular fantasy. Beautiful costumes, cars and sets, vintage props galore and old-style advertisement, everything was meticulously picked and discussed by a dedicated team, a worthy effort by the look of the film : a 2 hours fluent, enchanting time travel to the French late 50’s.

Déborah François

Déborah François

Romain Duris and Déborah François in Populaire

Romain Duris and Déborah François in Populaire

As fantastic as the directing, the cast of Populaire does not disappoint ; In the role of Louis Echard, Romain Duris, internationally loved in Pot Luck or Heartbreaker : the man knows how to pick his movies. He’s the eternal guy next door, a truly raw, moving actor who does comedy as well as he does drama, here giving his character the right, subtle dose of emotions and self-deprecation, combined to a real thirst for winning. Duris’ partner Déborah François (first noticed in 2008 for her part in The First Day of The Rest of Your Life) undeniably blossoms in the role of Rose Pamphyle (no pun intended) : a fresh, charming performance mixing bright smiles and gamine pouts, sporting her period outfits with natural grace and making her character instantly lovable. Someone did their homework watching Funny Face : a little French Audrey Hepburn is born. Duris and François make a great pair, bringing flair, fun and incredible sweetness to a somewhat fading romantic cinema. Supporting roles carry the same elegant energy, including long-known stars like Miou-Miou and Eddy Mitchell,  faces à la mode like Bérénice Béjo or Nicolas Bedos, and canadian actor Shaun Benson as the funny american pal.

Déborah François

Populaire is not what you call a profound movie. It doesn’t deliver a message or hides a secret meaning, it has no metaphorical quality or deep thinking material. It’s a very classical story told in a very classical way, an efficient romantic comedy entangled in a race to victory, with a little quirk factor. It’s entertaining, and that’s not a bad word. It just makes you happy. Yes, it’s that kind of cinema, belittled by some, but deserving of praise when it’s done with such gusto and simplicity, because, seriously, whatever happened to these witty easy going treats ? Hitting the theatre to have a good time and leaving it with a big smile on your face, how terribly 1958, isn’t it ? Well, my friends, maybe that’s just the point.

Screenings at the IFI, May 31st 13.50|16.10|18.30|20.50

Do not miss !

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