Movies: Little white lies ****
(16, limited release)
In the brilliant opening sequence of Guillaume Canet's Little White Lies (Les Petits Mouchoirs), a man in early middle age becomes bored at a nightclub, makes his way outside, mounts his motorbike and races off through the Parisian streets until his progress is brutally interrupted by a head-on collision with a speeding truck.
This is Ludo (Jean Dujardin) and, as he fights for his life in intensive care, his circle of friends gather anxiously around him.
These include Max (François Cluzet), an uptight but open-hearted restaurateur, Marie (Marion Cotillard), a beautiful but restless young woman, and Vincent (Benoit Magimel), a rather melancholy chiropractor.
Every summer, the friends decamp to Max's idyllic beachfront house to escape the oppressive August heat of Paris, and once they've established that Ludo's condition is severe but stable, they decide to travel south anyway.
But Ludo seems to have been the social oil that bound the group together, and in his absence old tensions begin to surface. Their problems are various -- marital troubles, betrayals, suppressed crushes, repressed homosexuality, and during a course of a tense holiday they tease these out and test each other's loyalty to their injured friend.
Canet, whose last film was the widely acclaimed thriller Tell No One, tells his story with an ambitious sweep, using music and humour to fashion a telling tragi-comedy.
In this he succeeds brilliantly, helped by some terrific performances. Cluzet is absolutely wonderful as the controlling and histrionic but ultimately tender-hearted Max, Magimel subtly teases out his character's sexual distress, and Cotillard is predictably impressive as the glamorous but elusive Marie.
The obvious comparison is with The Big Chill, but Les Petits Mouchoirs is a whole lot better -- it's a rich, complex drama peopled by plausibly imperfect human characters rather than simplistic cyphers, and it's also hugely enjoyable.
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