We’re rather new to this art-cinema lark. Having only seen a handful of films in the last few years, we’re now just a short stroll from this splendid new venue in Northampton and it would be a crime not to take advantage of it. I’m pretty sure it’s been a couple of decades since Mrs Chrisparkle and I last saw a foreign language film, and I was wondering how we would manage both to read the subtitles and watch the film at the same time. Funny how it becomes second nature after a few minutes. Anyway, our first foreign language film, certainly of this century, was Populaire, a French romcom, which also happens to be its writer-director, Régis Roinsard’s first full length film too. I think that puts Régis and us on an equal footing.
It’s a rather charming story set in the late 1950s of a homely beguiling young girl who dreams of becoming a secretary in order to get away from the humdrum existence of helping out in her father’s village shop. Fortunately she has the amazing gift of being able to type super-quickly even if it is with just two fingers. Her skills, and her guile, impress her boss to enter her into a series of speed-typing contests; and as her proficiency improves, so deeper becomes the relationship between her and the boss, although it’s definitely a bumpy ride.
The film provides a great late 1950s vibe, with terrific attention to detail with costumes and hairstyles and a wonderful soundtrack, which maybe feels a little more early 60s, but is still eminently chic and groovy. It’s also very funny in a positive sort of way and you spend the entire length of the film smiling at the characters and their situations. Mrs C found it particularly refreshing to see a romcom that wasn’t Hollywood, although we’re neither of us expert enough to identify the elements that would actually make up a Hollywood romcom. This, however, felt much more charming, chic, stylish than anything we could imagine Hollywood could offer. It’s not all lovey-dovey though, they get some real drama going too with the typing championships; as the competition gets tougher, and bitchier, you’ve never seen typewriters used as a weapon of war like this. No quarter is given in these battles for keyboard supremacy.
There’s a lovely performance by Déborah François as Rose, the manic typist but useless secretary, with whom you have complete sympathy throughout, battling her way through her career and her contests and hoping that she finds love with the debonair but difficult Louis Echard, played by Romain Duris. Bérénice Bejo and Shaun Benson are Echard’s friends, the Taylors, who support them – in different ways – when things go wayward – Echard’s relationship with Bob Taylor reminded me very much of Higgins and Pickering in My Fair Lady. There’s elements of Pretty Woman in there too. And there are some fantastic typing bitches too, played by Mélanie Bernier and Sara Haskell. It’s slightly incredible to think that in those days they really would pack out theatres to cheer on their favourite typist at a speed-typing championship; but apparently such events still exist. It’s a delightful film which kept us fully entertained. I’d heartily recommend it to you.