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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Populaire review: just your type

Populaire green light Deborah Francois

Ridiculously charming as it spins a deliciously retro kitsch magic.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Were there speed-typing competitions in the 1950s? If so, they cannot possibly have been as goofily, insanely popular as they are depicted in the ridiculously charming French rom-com Populaire. International in scope, performed before crowds of screaming fans, with results announced on the radio? Why, you’d almost think this was football (that is, soccer)!

They should have been this real. Because then a small-town girl who dreamed of big-city success might actually have found fame and fortune and romance and all good things, as Rose Pamphyle (Déborah François) has dreamt of, instead of exchanging one life of drudgery, as a housewife, for another, as an office serf. Running away from her dull small village to the not-even-very-big city of Lisieux — actually, it’s more of a big-ish town — she seeks work as a secretary because that’s what “modern” girls do… only to discover that she is a “disaster” at the job. Except for the typing. She’s very very fast on a typewriter, and she loves typing. Which is the only reason her boss, Louis Échard (Romain Duris: CQ), keeps her around. Because he has dreams, too, beyond selling insurance his whole life. He will lead Rose to heights of typing glory such as only those international competitions can bring…

Oh, and he might also be a little bit in love with her, too. Natch.

I’m not sure I’ve seen a more delightfully perfect — and perfectly delightful — movie this year. Dripping with gorgeous midcentury design and marvelously creamy 1950s Technicolor cinematography, this is a plain ol’ joy to look at. It could almost be a lost relic of that age, except that it spins a kind of magic from the excitement of the age with a delicious kitsch that is self-consciously retro. There’s a hindsight at play in Populaire that a film of the time couldn’t have managed. The typewriter is here a thing of wonder, a symbol of a new postwar world that holds much promise — the film is a love letter to the device, and to what it boded then, even if most people at the time didn’t realize it: speed, precision, and a revolution in communications. Maybe it didn’t feel that way then, but looking back from today, we can easily see how The Keyboard was the path to the future. (I imagine someone making a movie 50 years from now that captures a similar giddy exhilaration about the iPad.)

Rose, too, is a harbinger of things to come, a protofeminist itching for more from the world than marriage to the village mechanic (which is her destiny before she changes it). She complains, at one point, that she is “too weird to love” — although, no: it’s not a complaint, it’s simply an explanation, if a somewhat wrongheaded one, for why she’s alone. She doesn’t seem unduly distressed by her aloneness, but she also doesn’t realize that her “weirdness” is merely a result of the fact that she’s grown beyond the narrow confines of the world she came from.

The Hollywood remake of this — which is inevitable — will suck. See this before the dumbed-down version gets lobbed in your head. You won’t be sorry.

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Populaire (2013)
US/Can release: Sep 6 2013
UK/Ire release: May 31 2013

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated QQ for qwerty quirkiness
MPAA: rated R for a scene of sexuality
BBFC: rated 12A (contains a moderate sex scene)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    Oh good! The trailer looked promising; I’m glad the promise was kept.

  • singlestick

    RE: Maybe it didn’t feel that way then, but looking back from today, we can easily see how The Keyboard was the path to the future.

    This reminds me of the subplot in the first season of “Downton Abbey,” in which a maid is surreptitiously learning to type because becoming a secretary offers the promise of a rise up in economic and social status, and of course some perceive this “modern” device as a threat to the establish order.

    Great review. I will be on the lookout for this film. Sounds kind of like “Rocky” with typewriters instead of boxing gloves. And why not?

  • There’s a funny “training” sequence that riffs on sports movies.

  • RogerBW

    I didn’t think this was still the case by the 1950s; certainly in the 1920s becoming a copy-typist was one of the very few legal professions open to women, and was the way a lot of them supported themselves after leaving home (unlike teaching or nursing it didn’t require lots of training).

  • Luigi Proud DemoCat!

    Your review perfectly captures my thoughts of this film. Even the credit sequence at the beginning of the film was so delightfully colorful and retro. It would have fit a Doris Day / Rock Hudson comedy perfectly.

    One thing you didn’t mention is that the chemistry between Rose and Louis is absolutely electric. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better matched pair in any romantic comedy – EVER! If this film had been made in the 1950’s, I’m sure it would be only one of 10 or more movies starring this pair in every ridiculous romantic situation imaginable.

  • Mississippi Lady

    This was still the case in the 1950’s…..I was one of these aspiring typists. Taking typing was a must for high school girls. Our speed dictated our grade, and once we were in the job market, speed again predicted your success, Typing proficiency was the only way out of small town poverty for those girls who couldn’t attend college. And it wasn’t just the girls who weren’t smart enough to get other jobs or attend college who joined the typing brigade. After working several years as a typist/secretary, I was able to attend college and maintained a 4.0 grade for four years!

  • When I was looking for corporate publishing jobs in NYC in the very late 80s, typing tests — on typewriters, not computers — were *still* required.

    I hated them. I was good at them, but I hated them. It was so demeaning, as if the bulk of what I could offer a company was typing speed. *argh*

  • Tonio Kruger

    They still have typing tests today — only now they involve computer keyboards, not typewriters.

    And you’ re right, MaryAnn. A job that would require you to spend all day slaving away at a keyboard would suck. So I guess it’s a good thing you don’t have a job like that.:)

  • LaSargenta

    I had heard a story from a (much older) woman who had been an engineer in the ’40’s and ’50’s. When she started her job at whatever lab it was, she was given something to type and said “I can’t type.” It happened to be a lie, but, bewildered as to what they were going to do with a woman who couldn’t type, she was given long strings of calculations to perform (people were called “computers”, that’s how the name came about). When her work was found to be excellent, she was given calculations to check. Eventually, she worked her way up to heading a design team. And she never let anyone see her type.

    So, when I started at my company, in the ancient year of 2000, I was asked by a much older male engineer to type something up for him. (I was in the trades before studying engineering and have only been working as an engineer since ’98.) Without missing a beat, I said “I can’t type.” He went away confused. Someone else asked me to do a drawing…a soil profile. I later did a lot of work with that guy and we did just fine together, but he was pretty U.S.-Old-School (I found the Iranians, Eastern Europeans and Russians to be more likely to assume a women in an engineering firm was an engineer than US guys of a certain generation.)

  • bronxbee

    i have a legal secretary/paralegal career and the typing tests were the most ridiculous, humiliating part of any interview. you are never questioned again about your speed. i did 110 words a minute in my last test (10 years ago), but i always said that a proper and true test of legal secretary skills would be a legal document, full of misspellings, improper citations, scrawled attorney notes, arrows and insertions, and inaccurately used copy editing symbols, then you have to make up a proper legal document from it. nowadays, the career and profession of legal secretary/paralegal is just about dead, since young attorneys do their own drafting on their computers and no one ever seems to proof read *anything*…

  • RogerBW

    LaSargenta, I’ve heard the same thine from women working in the 1950s to 1970s: “Never let them know you can type”. (“Make the coffee really badly” was another approach.)

  • LaSargenta

    Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your taste in coffee), the guys from the mail room are in charge of the coffee and tea here.


    But, well, the typing thing is now something everyone needs who is going to do any work on a computer…still, the “can you type this up for me ’cause you’re female” thing was floating around in New York City ….. O_o …… in 2000.

    Haven’t had to answer that question lately, but, now I’d answer that I’d need the keyboard to be in Dvorak.

  • LaSargenta

    Proof reading (the US legal customary spelling) or proofreading (Webster’s) is a custom more honored in the breach than the observance these days, much to my sorrow.

    Spell-check seems to be accepted by far too many as good enough. *sigh*

    I really like your idea of a test for a legal secretary.

  • Bluejay

    Have you seen Taylor Mali’s performance piece on proofreading and spell-check? “The red penis your friend.”

  • LaSargenta

    I will look at this when not on a work computer….


  • Tonio Kruger

    That explains why my late sister had such a hard time finding a job as a legal secretary or a paralegal when she tried to return to her former occupation a few years back. She finally had to settle for a retail job that paid much less and produced more stress. So, yay, progress! :(

  • bronxbee

    when i first had to give in and start working at a large corporate firm, i was still auditioning for theatre and movie parts. when someone in the office asked me what her daughter should do who wanted to be an actor, i said, “NEVER let her learn to type. Ever. then the only thing she’ll be able to do is what she’s passionate about doing. having a skill that pays the rent and all the other necessities of life on a regular basis is like a bear trap you have to chew your own leg off to get out of. especially if it includes benefits.” how i wish i had taken my own advice.

  • LaSargenta

    Yeah, that was good. Thanks!

  • Tonio Kruger

    Hey, everyone over a certain age tends to regret the road not taken.

    And there are worse things in this life than having a skill you can use to support yourself with.

    And far worse jobs for an aspiring actress to be stuck in than that of a typist.

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