out of Five
Running time: 111
Stylishly directed and laugh-out-loud funny, this is a hugely enjoyable French romcom (or Fromcom) with a witty, intelligent script and a pair of terrific comic performances from Deborah Francois and Romain Duris.
What's it all about?
Directed by Regis Roinsard, Populaire is set in 1959 and stars Deborah Francois as Rose Pamphyle, a smalltown shopgirl who dreams of bigger things and lands herself a trial period as secretary to cocky insurance agent Louis Echard (Romain Duris), largely due to her impressively speedy two-fingered typing skills. Though she's something of a washout in the secretary department, Louis agrees to give Rose the job, providing she lets him enter her in the upcoming national speed-typing championship (something that was apparently all the rage in 1950s France).
In order to train her more efficiently, Louis moves Rose into his country mansion, where he makes her undertake a gruelling regimen of physical fitness and typing exercises such as typing out entire works of literature. Naturally, the pair begin to fall for each other, but Louis has a crippling fear of commitment dating back to his time spent in the French resistance and the loss of his childhood sweetheart Marie (Berenice Bejo) to his best friend Bob (Shaun Benson).
Deborah Francois is utterly charming as Rose, combining sulky insouciance and perky pulchritude to winning effect. Romain Duris is equally good as Louis (his performance lets you see him falling in love with her even if he doesn't realise it himself) and there's strong comic support from Berenice Bejo, Shaun Munro and Melanie Bernier as Annie Leprince-Ringuet, Rose's chief rival in the competition.
The witty, intelligent script cleverly blends both romantic comedy elements (a dash of Pygmalion, a twist of Billy Wilder) and sports competition movie conventions (including an amusing training montage sequence), while subtly toying with the power-play and relationship dynamics between the two (Rose's behaviour when she accidentally meets Louis' family is one of several unexpected delights). In addition, the film is packed with great gags, both verbal and visual.
Roinsard's direction is impeccable throughout, heightened by some achingly gorgeous production design work that expertly pastiches 1950s romcoms, coupled with a suitably fabulous soundtrack (the film has justifiably picked up several comments along the lines of ‘Mad Men meets The Artist’ and, oddly, Populaire steals an entire scene from Vertigo the same way The Artist stole some of Vertigo's score.
In addition, Roinsard orchestrates several terrific scenes, such as a delightfully impromptu dance number, while all the competition sequences are thrillingly shot and edited, generating genuine, air-punching excitement in true sports movie fashion.
Populaire is an absolute joy from start to finish, thanks to note-perfect pastiche work, terrific performances and a brilliantly written, frequently hilarious script that cleverly combines romcom and sports movie elements. Highly recommended and one of the best films of the year.