Can you imagine a musical without any show tunes? That's pretty much what French director Régis Roinsard has created in Populaire, a dazzling carousel of a film that, despite a noticeable lack of show-stoppers, will have you tapping your feet and clapping your hands nonetheless.
Why? Well, if you pop the cork on Populaire, you'll find yourself pirouetting in bubbles. It's impossible not to get swept up in its infectious satire, its swoonsome romance and its sepia-toned innocence. As 1950s village girl Rose (Déborah François) first lands a secretary job at a big city insurance firm, then becomes the pet project of boss Louis (Romain Duris), Populaire whisks along like a petal on a breeze – buoyant, bright, playful.
In the place of show tunes we get (wait for it) thrillingly-choreographed type-offs. See, Louis is coaching Rose to put her secretarial skills to the test in national (and later, international) competitions. If cut-throat type-offs sound like your idea of office-desk hell, it's here that Roinsard impresses most, his singularly crafty eye transforming scenes that should be loud, clacking annoyances into the kind of visually-inventive sports-movie montages that get your temples resolutely thumping.
Romain Duris and Déborah François.
It’s part sitcom, part sports film, and Populaire is as immaculately groomed as its stars. The fifties setting is fastidiously, sumptuously recreated, though nothing looks even remotely lived in. The aesthetic is as artificial as a set of acrylic nails, but that's part of Populaire's charm – this is one man's dollhouse vision of a bygone era, glimpsed through gauzy window netting. Roinsard's film is positively crammed with delicious sights – painted fingernails, haute couture and, in one risqué moment, a striking red-blue neon sex scene (mon dieu!).
Ensuring that there's substance behind the style, François is an endearingly goofy lead. It's no mistake that she has a picture of Audrey Hepburn tacked to her bedroom wall. Not only is François a likeable Hepburn double, her comedy timing is impeccable. Meanwhile, her chemistry with Duris crackles. Sure, the film follows the expected peaks and troughs of a screwball romance, but it's difficult to complain when it's played out this beautifully.
Consider Populaire the My Fair Lady of typing. It's a poem to and pastiche of '50s rom-coms, full of knowing sexism ("Your life! Everything a modern girl dreams of!"), head-spinning fashion and frothy, infectious fun. Like the prophetically-named typewriter that Rose first falls in love with, Populaire is a triumph.
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