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Populaire Review

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The whole thing screams chic and is told with loving care

by Simon Crust Sep 16, 2013 at 9:33 AM

  • Movies review

    76

    Populaire Review
    Charm, warmth and easy watching – rarely are such films made within the Hollywood machine, it is left to the independents, or foreign markets to produce. And that is where tonight’s feature hails from, France, and it is everything that the opening sentence suggests. Following the story of a naïve shop-working girl with an extraordinary talent for typing, director Régis Roinsard’s debut feature packs in enough comedy, romance, sport, competition and downright charm to win over the hearts and minds of even the most cynical viewers. Nominated for, and winner of, numerous awards it is easy to see why, for the feature plays very much like a film from the period it which it is set: the fifties - from the titles to the music, from the pacing to the acting; the whole thing screams chic and even if the story is inevitably predictable and doesn’t try to tread any new ground, it is told with such loving care that you can’t help but be won over. Ladies and gentlemen, tonight feature presentation is Populaire.

    It is spring 1958 and the film opens up to our main protagonist, Rose Pamphyle, as she takes down a typewriter from her widower father’s shop window and begins to type. Her life revolves around a small provincial town of France, her father is over bearing and protective and she seems unable to please him. She is destined to marry the son of the local mechanic and her life seems mapped out for her – but this is not the life she wants, with her skill on the typewriter she dreams of being a secretary in the city. Answering an advert for an insurance company, Rose joins a long line of interviewees for the secretarial job, much to her fathers’ chagrin. The women in front of her all have some experience and natter away to each other giving away valuable tips to Rose, who has never left her home town before let alone been in this situation. Rose is played by Belgian actress Déborah François who is utterly charming in the role. She shows a beautiful youthful innocence as Rose and her striking similarity to a young Audrey Hepburn was not lost on the film-makers (they acknowledge the fact by having a portrait of her in Rose’s bedroom) but since the movie is harking back to an age and a style of '50s film this was not only serendipitous but actively worked into the script. She plays Rose with a youthful exuberance, wilful but sheltered – we’re in the fifties and women still didn’t have many rights, so her standing up to men and arguing her point as well as defending her position and sexuality are traits that shine through. She has the looks and demeanour to melt hearts, and she does so as the film progresses.

    Louis Échard is the charismatic, well dressed and headstrong owner of the insurance company that placed the advert. The whole line hushes when he walks out of his office to inspect the applicants as the girls, and women, all try their best alluring look to entice him; all, that is, except Rose, whose sheer innocent at this type of behaviour seemingly gives her an advantage. However, her interview goes very badly when her inexperience and clumsiness talks her out of the job. When Louis leaves the office, she plays her trump card – she types a letter. Louis is astounded at her speed even using one finger typing and agrees to give her a week’s trial to see how she copes. Louis is played by Romain Duris whose dour face and mannerisms make him at first a little unlikable - we, like Rose, are untrusting of him and his motives. It is only when we learn a little about his past, he is a war veteran of the Resistance who lost a lot of friends under his command, he is a sports enthusiast but always comes second, he lost his love because he was unable to commit – all these facets are etched into his psyche and his face. Rose’s skill at the typewriter awakens something dormant in him, his competitive edge and it is this more than anything else that which motivates his desire for her – at least at first.

    In this digital age where everyone has a computer or laptop and where everyone has some small typing ability it is almost inconceivable that typing at speed was a very desirable skill and there were competitions set for secretaries nationally and internationally for the fastest typing speed. Knowing of these competitions is what motivates Louis to hire Rose, even when her secretarial skills are worse than hopeless and she even fails to qualify in her first competition attempt. Of course, from the moment we have met our two main cast, we know exactly where the film is heading. And this is helped by the enormous on-screen chemistry that François and Duris share. Writer and director Régis Roinsard uses their relationship as a backbone to the story for competing typists, it’s never far away but it’s never in your face, it’s soft, appealing and captivating. Once Rose is on board for the competition the movie changes gear (!) with plenty of montages showing how Rose increases her skill – from coloured nail polish to match the respective keys on the keyboard, to running to increase stamina, piano lessons to increase dexterity and typing out entire books to enhance sentence (de)construction to anticipate letter, and character, formations.

    It is during this training that our two protagonists inevitably become closer; Rose clearly has a crush on Louis, but he never seems to reciprocate. It is only later that the reasons for his behaviour become clear – and it takes a sudden realisation for him to change his harsh ways. All this is par for the course in typical ‘rom-com’ territory, the ‘will they, won't they’ narrative has been done too many times to count; only here Roinsard manages to keep the mood by shining a light on exactly where the film is headed. Some might baulk at the idea of its obviousness but the way the narrative is structured keeps you entertained and you are willing the happy ending. As Rose’s skill increases so does her popularity both with friends and family. Indeed continued success heals the rift between her and her father in one of many very touching moments that help draw the film along.

    The film is set in the late 50s with the writing, direction, cinematography and design being very much in that style of film; right down to the credits and music. In fact if you didn’t know you could swear that this was made in the era that is it set. The style of acting, the character arcs, the pacing, even the story, all give the feeling of nostalgia and the film really thrives on it. There is never any doubt about the outcome of the film; both of the story elements have their required happy endings and this may be a bit too sweet for some; I mean there were times when I expected a slight change from the norm just to make it different (maybe lose the final but get the guy?) however, think about what this film is emulating – before such twists and turns, films were a simpler affair and this is a simple film and, truly, that’s where its greatest appeal is. There is something relaxing about letting a charming little film such as this wash over you. There are genuine moments of comedy, it is captivatingly touching and has that all important feel good factor. It even has boobs in it. What more could you ask for? It has come and gone at the box office without much fanfare, but I do hope that it finds a home on Blu-ray, I think it deserves a great deal of respect.

    Picture

    The disc presents a theatrically correct widescreen 1.85:1 1080p transfer using the AVC MPEG4 codec and is Region locked to
    B.

    In trying to capture the fifties feel of the piece the image has been specifically shot to be quite soft, bright and, on occasion hazy – this is aesthetic choice and not a defect with the print. Detail, on the whole, is pretty good, skin has a reasonable texture, clothing can have weave, check out how ‘wet’ Rose’s clothes get during a storm, while the keys and mechanics of the typewriters have clear edges – paper even looks crisp enough to feel. Distance shots hold edges well into the distance, though the film rarely makes full use of such.

    Colours are bright and bold with the primaries coming across with suitable vibrancy with no wash or bleed – check out the love making scene where blue and red bathe the screen, while otherwise skin has a pale, but natural hue.

    Brightness is set a fraction high with a corresponding contrast which leaves the whole picture slightly washed, this, though, is a function of the film’s look and not a defect; this comes across as a ‘fifties looking’ film, thus the blacks are never absolute, so while this robs the picture of any significant punch or depth, please note this is not a problem, just a function of the picture – but it does take a little getting used to compared to the modern blockbuster.

    Digitally there were no compression problems or any edge enhancement. The love making scene above does push the boundaries of red with the image looking ever so slightly digitised, blue copes well though. CG sits well within the frame with only one scene (outside shot of a New York street zooming to the competition hall) showing up the effects used. On the whole a very pleasing picture whose aesthetic choices have been very well represented.

    Sound

    I chose the French dts-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and it works very well to present its information. We’re not in deep surround territory here, however the scope for immersion is actually well represented with numerous scenes making full use of all six speakers – bars, the competition halls, night clubs all create a realistic surround environment with full ambience being supplied by the surrounds; whether that is glasses clinking, general chatter, the clatter of typewriter keys or music, all become very immersive to the environment.

    Dialogue is clear and precise, sounds very natural and emanates from the frontal array with a little directionality when needed. There are plenty of stereo effects, such as cars moving across screen, to the ‘ting’ of a typewriter bell, or placing you in the centre of a typewriter's mechanics! The score makes use of the surround environment and never more so than in the night club scene. Bass is well managed with the sub filling out the score and effects keeping it on throughout the runtime, but this is not an action film so there are no LF effects and bass never plumbs any significant depths.

    Subtitles are white, in the lower centre of the frame, grammatically correct and are around long enough to make reading them a breeze.

    Extras

    Just the five (very) short featurettes and some (skippable) trailers before the film starts; all are PR fluff but they do contain some behind the scenes material and are headed up by interviews with the major cast and crew.
    • To Begin With (HD, 02.42) – A discussion of the film’s premise, gestation period and ideas for the script, headed up by the director.
    • The Love Story (HD, 01.58) – A look at the main leads and the romance that blossoms between them.
    • The 50s – (ND, 03.01) – A discussion about the period setting and the design aspects and art direction to achieve the results.
    • A Romantic and Sports Comedy (HD, 02.41) – Brief overview of combining these two genres into one compelling story.
    • Typists Rule (HD, 02.58) – A look at the other star of the film, the typewriters, and how they were collected from all over the world, all dismantled and repaired, including repainting them, and the amount of training the secretaries received to be convincing in the role (apparently there is no speeded up film, all real time and the actresses' real hands!)

    Verdict

    Populaire is not what you expect. It is also everything you expect. An immensely charming film that tells the story of a French girl whose talent for speed typing sees her become world famous while along the way she captures the heart of her trainer; there is nothing surprising but with its winning formula and natural chemistry between its leads, as well as being genuinely funny, very heart warming, romantic and honest edge of the seat viewing, it is a hugely rewarding experience. Director Régis Roinsard’s debut feature successfully captures the appeal and magic of a fifties film (the time when the film is set) and it plays very much to its strengths becoming entertaining and enjoyable. I do hope it finds a place on the home format where its natural elegance should shine
    through.

    As a Blu-ray release the set is pretty good. The picture successfully captures the mood of a fifties film being bright and bold, the sound is surprisingly immersive for what is a mainly dialogue driven piece, but certain set pieces really set the speakers alight. The extras are a little thin on the ground, being pretty much promotional fluff, but each one does take on a little bit of the behind the scenes material. On the whole a decent enough set.