The light-hearted soufflé of a film, “Populaire,” directed by Régis Roinsard and starring Romain Duris and Deborah François, kicked off Rendez-Vous With French Film Cinema Thursday night at the Paris Theater.
The charming director and the glittery stars attended thea premiere and the afterparty at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy on Fifth Avenue. (The Film Society of Lincoln Center, Unifrance Films and the Weinstein Company present the festival, which runs through March 10.)
“Populaire” is about an adorable and innocent young woman (François), a grocer’s daughter, stuck in the French provinces in 1959, who dreams of independence and a career. In Paris she finds work as a secretary of a handsome but often clueless boss (Duris), who discovers she can type like a maniac.
He develops her talent and soon enters her in national and international typing competitions. And this part is historically accurate: it turns out typing contests were really the craze back then. Who knew?
The visual design of the movie, including costumes, sets and décor, lovingly looks back to American movies of the 1950’s. It particularly reminded me of the 1959 Rock Hudson-Doris Day comedy, “Pillow Talk,” where what begins as a contentious, prickly relationship ends – how else? – in romance.
It’s such an idealized and innocent period that you can’t help but watch the film with a happy if mindless pleasure.
Romain Duris, 39, is currently in New York filming Xavier Rousseau’s “Chinese Puzzle,” co-starring Audrey Tautou. (Tautou is in Thérèse Desqueyroux (2012), written and directed by Claude Miller, which also screened at Rendez-Vous.)
With his scruffy rock star looks and lanky physicality, and, of course, his talent for comedy and drama, Duris is a very big deal in France. (My favorite Duris film is Jacques Audiard’s “The Beat That My Heart Skipped.”)
At the movie’s afterparty, instead of Audrey Hepburn gliding up the long elegant staircase of the Fifth Avenue mansion, the gamine Audrey Tautou made an impressive entrance in a demure black lace gown.
Also at the soiree were director François Ozon, whose Rendez-Vous film “In the House” is terrific, along with the beautiful Deborah François.
Duris was in the middle of adoring fans, primarily women. With his James Dean pout and standoffish demeanor, I bypassed Duris for “Populaire” director, Régis Roinsard, who is a warm and cuddly bear of a man.
Roinsard told me he was inspired to make the film after watching a documentary about the history of the typewriter and typing contests. “When I discovered that, I immediately decided to write something about that subject.”
He told me 1950’s American films also inspired him. “When I wrote the script I thought of dead actors,” he said. “I think about Rock Hudson, Cary Grant. It was a mix of that, especially for the character of Échard (Duris). I think about Audrey, Marilyn and Doris Day and my own imagination.”
He added, “It’s a bizarre and fantastic object, the typewriter, because the design, the technique, and now it’s the computer. So to do that movie, it is kind of an allegory about the world of speediness. With our world, everything is speedier every day. The 50’s, it was the beginning of all that.”
One of my favorite lines from the film: “America is for business, France is for love.”
“Populaire” will be released by The Weinstein Company in July 2013.