Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Julien Rappeneau
Stars: Noemie Lvovsky, Kyan Khojandi, Anemone, Alice Isaaz, Sara Girardeau, Camille Rutherford.
Three lonely, introverted and shy characters form an emotional connection of sorts in a small provincial town in this light, whimsical and off beat romantic comedy from first time feature director Julien Rappeneau. The son of respected filmmaker Jean-Paul Rappeaneau (the Gerard Depardieu vehicle Cyrano De Bergerac, etc), Rappenaeau is better known as a writer of films like the hard hitting crime drama 36th Precinct, etc.
Vincent Machot (played by Kyan Khojandi, better known as a director of television sketch comedy series Bref, etc) is a rather shy and downtrodden thirtysomething barber. He has inherited both his apartment and business from his late father. He lives in the apartment directly below his overbearing, domineering, intrusive, eccentric and emotionally manipulative mother (veteran French actress Anemone, from Aux Petits bonheurs, etc), who loves creating her own private puppet shows. Vincent supposedly has a girlfriend who lives in Paris, but we never get to meet her. He also suffers from nosebleeds whenever he becomes too stressed.
One evening while out buying some last minute groceries for his mother Vincent experiences a powerful sense of deja vu when he meets bespectacled and timid clerk Rosalie Blum (Noemie Lvovsky, from Summertime, etc). Unsure where he knows her from but intrigued, Vincent begins to follow Rosalie to learn more. He follows her to her house, to a bar, the movies, and even to her regular choir practice, and finds his life slowly changed by these experiences.
But Rosalie has become aware of his presence. She convinces her niece Aude (Alice Isaaz) to spy on Vincent to determine if he is a dangerous stalker or just a harmless soul. Aude is a school drop out, but she is also a gifted photographer and an aspiring arts student who lives with an eccentric bunch of theatre performers. The three main characters are hindered by their own sense of loneliness and fears, until their lives intersect in unexpected fashion.
The film is based on the trilogy of eponymous graphic novels written by French artist Camille Jourdy, and the screenplay from Rappeneau is perceptive, empathetic and compassionate. Rosalie Blum is endearing but also melancholic in tone and a little slow moving, and it doesn’t follow the usual formula of romantic comedies. However, there are a few genuine laugh out loud moments. The film is structured in three distinct chapters, each of which follows events from the different perspective of the three main characters. The third chapter nicely ties all the disparate elements together. The film plays like a puzzle with the pieces slowly coming together, although some in the audience may be a little frustrated that Rappeneau leaves the big reveal until the very end.
Rappeneau draws nice performances from his leads. In particular Lvovsky shines as the plain, sad and unfulfilled Rosalie, and she seems to have eschewed make up to play her in the early scenes. Blum’s painful and darker backstory is slowly teased out, and Lvovsky makes some interesting emotional choices through her nuanced performance. Khojandi is one of France’s most popular comics, but here he delivers a sympathetic performance as the downtrodden and unassuming Vincent. Isaaz brings a youthful sparkle and comic energy to the material as the more easy going Aude. Anemone is well cast as Vincent’s demanding mother, and she delivers a strong performance in an unsympathetic role. Sara Giraudeau and Camille Rutherford bring some touches of manic energy and slapstick humour to proceedings as Aude’s friends Cecile and Laura, who help her spy on Vincent.
Technical contributions are all excellent. Cinematographer Pierre Cottereau (Cafe de Flores, etc) nicely captures the ambience and gentle pace of the picturesque small town setting. Isabelle Pannetier’s costumes instantly reveal small details about the characters. And the evocative score was composed by the director’s brother Martin Rappeneau.