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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

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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watch at home

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

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