While I don’t shy away from French films as a rule, I can understand the oft-lobbed criticism that they can be slow, and pretentious, and “good for you.” But Populaire is proof that the French can make romantic comedies just as light and silly as we Americans can.
The film has been referred to as a French “Mad Men,” and while the era (1959) and protagonists (a businessman and his secretary) certainly do bring the American show to mind, Populaire is much lighter stuff. Blonde gamine Déborah François is Rose Pamphyle, a young woman from a small Normandy town who dreams of escaping her father and an arranged marriage, and moving to the big city to become a secretary. When she applies for a job with insurance salesman Louis Echard, (the delightfully beau laid Romain Duris), he is ready to blow her off for her lack of experience. Until he sees how fast she can type.
Seeing a potential speed-typing champion on his hands, (prior to the war, he was once an aspiring athlete and trainer), he decides to take her under his wing, house her, and train her to increase her typing speed–the first step being moving her away from her two-fingered approach, and on to ten-fingered touch-typing.
As you can imagine, what starts out as purely business turns into romance, with Rose falling hopelessly in love, while Louis remains hung up on the past love (played by The Artist’s Bérénice Bejo) who married his best friend, an American soldier (Shaun Benson).
Will Rose win the world-wide championship? Will she and Louis see past their differences and end up together? If you think there’s any question as to how this movie plays out, you don’t know romantic comedies. No, Populaire doesn’t offer anything new in terms of story-telling, but it still manages to be thoroughly engaging through the strength of charming performances, a beautifully Technicolor-esque palate, and amazing costume and set design.
If you know me, you know I have a soft spot for mid-century decor and clothing, so watching Populaire was like scrolling through my dream Pinterest board, something, granted, I could probably do for hours. I’m not sure if this is a movie the masses will take to, but for anyone whose interests may include pretty clothes, the 1950s, and, well, typing, you probably can’t go wrong with Populaire.