Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Populaire: Love in the Time of Typewriters
was a simpler, analog time when assistants were called secretaries. They were always women, but they were
considered “modern” women. Régis Roinsard
pays tribute to the women in the late 1950’s workforce and the romantic
comedies of their era with Populaire (trailer here), which opens
today in New York.
Pamphyle longs to leave her sleepy provincial village for a big city job as a
sophisticated secretary. She makes it as
far as Lisieux, the nearest sizable city for any interview with Louis Échard’s
small but respectable insurance company.
Frankly, she lacks most of the skills required for the position, except
typing—sort of. Even with two fingers
she is a speed demon.
Pamphyle’s raw talent, Échard decides to forgo her dubious clerical assistance
so he can train her full time as a competitive speed typist. Échard is considerably more intense as a
coach than Pamphyle is as his protégée. She
has other concerns, inevitably developing strong feelings of attraction for the
suave former resistance fighter. Of
course, he seems to have a hard time recognizing his perfect rom-com match.
stocked with stylish circa-1959 trappings, Populaire
is bound to be compared to Mad Men, but
it largely replaces the zeitgeisty angst with old fashioned romance. Still, it also provides a mostly affectionate
time capsule look at a time when Pamphyle was considered rather bold for
pursuing an office career and smoking in the office was no big deal. Just seeing the cross-the-body manual return
is a vivid reminder how much has changed in the last fifty-some years. Frankly, for some younger viewers, Pamphyle
might as well be chiseling in stone.
Populaire is a bright and colorful period
piece (thanks to first rate contributions from cinematographer Guilaume Schiffman,
production designer Sylvie Olivé, and costume designer Charlotte David), but it
has some real heart beneath the froth. Déborah
François brings an acute sensitivity to Pamphye. Her romantic chemistry with Romain Duris’s Échard
is believably awkward but still smolders.
Yet, perhaps the most emotionally resonate moments involve his scenes
with The Artist’s Bérénice Béjo as
Marie Taylor, the lover he pushed away during the war for reasons of self
denial. She is an unexpectedly deep
character, fully brought to life by Béjo in her comparatively limited screen
is pleasing to the eye and the ear, including
some charming cha-cha-chas about typing, as well as timeless standards, from
the likes of Ella Fitzgerald. It is not a big picture in any sense, but it
goes down smooth and leaves audiences satisfied. Recommended for a fans of French cinema and
retro romantic comedies, Populaire opens
today (9/6) in New York at the Village East.
Labels: Berenice Bejo, French Cinema