In France they don’t use a QWERTY keyboard or typewriter, instead the letters spell out AZERTY. But why would anyone nowadays use a typewriter anyway? In the case of Populaire, because they want to be the fastest typist in the world, and that world is situated in the 1950s.
Set in a glossy, well-tailored tail end of the decade, Populaire has all the qualities that seem to make for the most successful French films of late: a quirky story, an attractive cast, and a certain French Je ne c’est quoi. Like Amelie, the film is set in a world slightly removed from reality, somewhere squeaky clean and brightly shining. Also like Amelie, Populaire is a romance, but unlike it, it is also a sports movie. The sport in question being speed typing.
Rose Pamphyle, played by the gorgeous Déborah François, lives in a small town, is engaged to a local boy and dreams of bigger things. This changes when she gets a job as a secretary at a small insurance company. Her boss is handsome and arrogant Louis (Romain Duris), but he has spotted an unusual facility in his new hire – she can clatter away at the typewriter faster than the other applicants. She looks like the perfect subject for training up to international speed standards.
You could say that Populaire is Rocky with typewriters, crossed with Pygmalion, in a Mad Men outfit. While the film isn’t afraid of using all the well worn conventions of romantic comedies, not to mention wearing it’s influences (including Doris Day comedies and Douglas Sirk melodramas) on it’s sleeve, it still feels fresh. Not many films revolve around typing competitions of course, but the performances keep it especially interesting.
Déborah François got her break after being cast in a Belgian social realist film, The Child, by the Dardennes brothers. Her youth and a background in this naturalistic approach to acting might account for creating such a believable guileless young woman. She is also very beautiful, dressed in a parade of fabulous frocks in scene after scene; the camera lingers on this. Romain Duris, previously voted one of France’s sexiest men, makes a solid romantic lead, both arrogant and vulnerable. Together their chemistry produces the appropriate reaction; he pouts, she pouts, they pout.
Populaire looks lovely and has some very funny jokes, perhaps the major flaw is that the course of this true love doesn’t perhaps run rough enough. It’s difficult to feel that Rose and Louis will not finally end up in each others’ arms, an important quality for a satisfying romance. This is a fairly minor quibble, however. So while it may be visiting very familiar territory, Populaire is also très charmant.
Populaire is out in cinemas on Friday 31 May, and on DVD and Blu Ray on 23rd September.
See the Populaire trailer here: