Sunday, October 6, 2013

Populaire (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Régis Roinsard's debut film is "Populaire", a fizzy and colorful bounce of a film that pays homage to the Rock Hudson and Doris Day films of the 50s, as well as the semi-comic Hitchcock films featuring Cary Grant and James Stewart.

We are in France in 1958, when the cars were beautiful boats and the makeup was perfect. The quirky Pamphyle (Déborah François) has dreams of being a secretary to the debonair human pencil, Louis (Romain Duris). But she is horribly clumsy and doesn't cut it with the glaring dark eyed Louis, who makes a fetching if bland blend of Alain Delon and Jon Hamm in this role. Once under Louis' vain and penetrating stare, Pamphyle suddenly becomes possessed and commences to type with manic speed and accuracy. Driven by a game of oneupmanship, Louis gets an idea to push Pamphyle into a speed typing contest. Pamphyle rapidly consents because she wants to gain some autonomy from her hovering father (Frédéric Pierrot)

As a result, Pamphyle faces some reptilian stenographic sirens, on par with Cruella de Vil.

As tissue thin as the plot is, the office scenes have the visual nostalgia of Hitchcock's "Dial 'M' for Murder", while the sight gags featuring some obnoxious women with perfect nails pay hints of tribute to John Waters "Hairspray" along with the legacy of Douglas Sirk. The camera lens is in itself a character in the film with the hallucinogenic Lifesaver filters, that speak of Antonioni or Warhol.

Indeed, it is perfectly feasible to watch this film as a singular style piece, all form and flash, with all of its emphasis on the female torso, chin stubble, keyboards and the domestic fetishism of lacquered nails. But the winning smirk of "Populaire" is that it nudges you with many titters, if not guffaws. And by the margin's end of this petite plaisanterie, there are some unsuspecting shades in the enigmatic Louis that may just bring to mind a Hitchcock antihero.

Ultimately though, "Populaire" is a light and facile pastiche, that highlights many bedroom comedies of the 50's. Director Régis Roinsard has the good sense to assimilate such imagery into the hyperactivity of our current age, all the while staying put within the masquerade of the late 50s. The only sensation you might be aware of is that of a timelessness. No matter that the "Vertigo" decade has passed along with those linoleum highways of vermouth and unconcealed cigarettes, hanging out in public.

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