Title: Populaire

The Weinstein Company

Director: Régis Roinsard

Screenwriter: Régis Roinsard, Daniel Presley, Romain Compingt

Cast: Romain Duris, Déborah François, Bérénice Bejo, Shaun Benson, Mélanie Bernier, Nicolas Bedos, Miou-Miou, Eddy Mitchell, Jean Pamphyle

Screened at: Dolby24, NYC, 9/5/13

Opens: September 6, 2013

When I was a freshman in college and almost as naïve as I am now, my upperclass fraternity brothers convinced me that I should enter the university typing contest. They knew that I got a 99 in Junior High School typing and heard me clacking away on a Smith-Corona. They must have had a big laugh after I left the room as I looked wide-eyed at the chance to be the school’s typing champ and win the co-ed of my dreams. (In fact there are typing competitions in the U.S. One in particular was held in 2010 at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, won by Sean Wrona as 213 words per minutes, a speed not possible before computers were in most homes.)

There was no typing competition at my college, Tufts—heard that U.S. News, which rates the country’s universities?—nor do I think there is a regional, national, or world typing championship such as Régis Roinsard illustrates for us in the remarkable film “Populaire.” (“Populaire” is the brand name of a French typewriter used by the film’s female star.) If this film were nothing more than a dramatization of a typing contest, I doubt that it would have anything like the terrific appeal it has as this year’s best non-English-speaking comedy to date. What gives “Populaire” its appeal is the way Roinsard projects the story as a confection, a French one at that; call it a cinematic crème caramel if you will.

The film features two appealing principals, Romain Duris, whom cineastes know from his title role in Jean-Baptiste Poquelin’s “Molière,” and Déborah François, not as well known, but who served recently as a principal performer in Rémi Bezançon’s “Le premier jour du reste de ta vie.” As small-town girl Rose Pamphyle, François is the perfect innocent, one who despite her adorable good looks probably would wind up with the local garage mechanic’s son except for one thing. She is an incredibly fast typist, using just two fingers as she had never learned the touch system.

She must have learned early on that she’s doomed to be either a housewife or secretary, as small-town Gallic women in the late ‘50’s were wont to be, which takes her to the larger town of Lisieux where she wins a secretarial job from the handsome Louis Échard (Romain Duris), boss of an insurance firm, who picked her out of a line of candidates who look upon him as though he were a rock star. She’s a klutz, but such a whiz at typing that he enters her into a regional contest, which morphs into a national type-off and ultimately the world typing championship in New York. When Roinsard sets the camera up at a competition, he appears to be satirizing sports events in general. Take the way the master of ceremonies announces the winner as so-and-so with a slow five…hundred…and…fifteen…strokes, all stated with rising inflection.

Since this picture is a rom-com and not an ESPN documentary, the French follow the same rules as the Americans; that is, a couple meet, sparks develop, they break up, and they go into the sunset together. The movie would not be the hit that it is without the incredible photography: it comes across in 1950’s Technicolor pastels, the period exemplified by the amount of smoking. The boss smokes while he conducts interviews and everyone at the dining table puffs away.

The film also features top ensemble performances from Bérénice Bejo as Marie Taylor and Shaun Benson as her husband Bob, both friends of Échard, and Frédéric Pierrot as Rose’s papa Jean Pamphyle. Word is that François underwent six months of professional tying, practicing for three hours daily, with nothing sped up in order to give the story the feeling of authenticity.

A lovely piece of work all around.

Rated R. 111 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+

Acting – A-

Technical – A

Overall – A-

Populaire Movie

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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