Love, sex and typing make ideal comedy
Film Review: Populaire (12A, limited release, 111 minutes) ***
Director: Régis Roinsard Stars: Roman Duris, Déborah Francois, Bérénice Bejo, Mélanie Bernier
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, a new kind of French comedy emerged that satirised the country's rapid postwar social change and the arrival of American-style consumerism.
These were rapidly paced farces in which befuddled citizens tried and failed to keep pace with progress. They often starred actors like Bourvil and Louis de Funes, and the best of them was La Belle Américane.
It's these very French responses to modernity that Régis Roinsard deliberately channels in Populaire, a charmingly dizzy and airheaded period romantic comedy.
In 1958, in the last days of the Fourth Republic, a pretty but inexperienced country girl called Rose Pamphyle (Déborah Francois) applies for a job as a secretary at a small insurance company in the Norman town of Lisieux.
Rose is a disaster when it comes to tasks like filing and answering the phones, but is very pretty and can type like the wind, so the company's boss Louis Echard (Romain Duris) decides to hire her.
A shy and retiring bachelor, Louis believes that Rose has a special talent, and persuades her to enter a regional typing competition. She agrees and he moves her into his rambling country pile so she can train in peace and quiet.
Rose comes on in leaps and bounds, but the mounting sexual tension between her and Louis is obvious. She wins the regionals and eventually earns a place in the national finals in Paris, but on the eve of the big type-off, love gets in the way.
Frothy and giddy and beautifully designed and made, Populaire presents an idealised and even sanitised picture of 1950s France: in this film, the sexism is harmless, sanctimonious small-town moral arbiters are nowhere to be seen and the Algerian War doesn't even merit a mention.
This is the kind of sugary escapism that in American cinema would find its precise equivalent in the Rock Hudson/Doris Day romcoms.
It works as a film because of its sumptuous look, the pithy nostalgia of its script and the effortless chemistry between Duris and Francois, both of whom make comic acting look very easy.