Populaire is the charming new romantic comedy from first-time director Régis Roinsard. Whimsical, funny, vivid and fast paced, the film looks like it will be a hit. We caught up with Roinsard and the film’s stars, Déborah François and Romain Duris, to talk Fifties style, speed typing and the modern lust for ever greater speed.
The film follows Rose, played by Déborah François, a young woman from a small village who gets a job working as a secretary in an insurance company run by Louis (Romain Duris). He sees she has an exceptional facility for typing and decides to train her up, so that she can become a champion competitive typist. Of course, amidst all the speed typing, love ensues.
Can you talk about the post World War II influence in Populaire?
Régis Roinsard: It’s a very large subject to talk about that, but the atmosphere after the Second World War, it was a very strange. It was very colourful, insouciant, carefree. It was like a bubble for the French, particularly because they wanted to forget the past, the Second World War.
Déborah François: For example there is the war in Algeria and they won’t talk about that. Nobody talks about it.
Régis Roinsard: Yes, and it was very strange because there was a lot of colour, cars, modern stuff. It is a kind of Christmas tree, but it is also kind of dark. It was the beginning of the consumer society and the beginning of entertainment, the beginning of teenagers, and the beginning of women’s emancipation. So it was the beginning of a lot of stuff and it is very contradictory period. The characters in the film are a bit like that. They are funny and colourful
Déborah François: But you have this living memory of the war in Bob [played by Shaun Benson]…
Régis Roinsard: Yes, and in Louis [played by Romain Duris] too.
Are you yourself nostalgic about that period?
Régis Roinsard: No, absolutely not. I am not nostalgic towards any period, but I love the style of that period. I love the dress, the cars, the design, the elegance – all that stuff. And the movies, like Billy Wilder, Douglas Sirk, the story telling of those kinds of movie. But if you think about men and women, I’m not nostalgic about that. I prefer my period.
I think that period was the beginning of the notion of speed, because we wanted to beat records, with cars, with planes… faster and faster. Our society is like that now with the internet. So it’s very interesting to look at in order to understand our society. It is also very fun to do a comedy, then afterwards we can maybe see the other levels of the movie.
Is there influence of the Doris Day films in the idea of a modern woman who can have work and love, and have it all?
Régis Roinsard: Yes, it’s not my principle [influence] in films. I like that movie [The Thrill of It All], but I prefer the tragedies of Douglas Sirk and Billy Wilder, or Jacques Demy or Funny Face by Stanley Donen and the character of Audrey Hepburn. Sometimes we can talk about My Fair Lady, but I don’t really that movie, it’s strange, because I don’t really like the ending. If you’re talking about a Pygmalion movie, I prefer The Red Shoes because it’s more interesting… and voila!
Rather than the actual state of society in the 1950s, is it truer to say that you’re more interested in the style of the story-telling of the period? After all, this film is not social realism.
Régis Roinsard: Yes, it’s a vision, it’s a fantasy. Absolutely, it’s totally allegorical about our society, it’s my own vision of the Fifties. My vision is a mix of the cinema, the movies and the documentaries and all the stuff I read about that period. Yes, it’s a bubble. It’s a very strange period and I love that because it’s a fantasy for a lot of things. Populaire is very different, for instance, from Mad Men which is a TV show and covers seven years. Our movie is just one year, so one particular moment.
Love stories have been around for a long time, but somehow this particular story still seems fresh. How do you account for this?
Régis Roinsard: I think the secret is the actors, because…
Romain Duris: I’m not so fresh, huh?
Déborah François: So, I had to be fresh for two!
Régis Roinsard: I don’t know, because in French ‘fresh’ is new, but it’s a vintage movie, so what is new in my vintage movie? It’s cool that you feel that, but I don’t try to be ‘fresh’.
It’s a paradox?
Régis Roinsard: Yes, it’s a paradox that it’s fresh, but it’s vintage.