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Movie review: ‘Populaire’

Posted 4:53pm on Thursday, Sep. 12, 2013

R (a scene of sexuality); 111 min.

The less seriously the genial French comedy Populaire takes itself, the more amusing it is. Fortunately, with small exceptions, this film doesn’t take itself very seriously at all.

Nominated for five Cesars and a box-office hit in France, Populaire is, for the most part, the fluffiest of French light comedies, though its accomplished stars, Romain Duris and Deborah Francois, have previously made strong impressions in serious roles.

Here they come together in the first film by director and co-writer Regis Roinsard. Dealing with the world of competitive speed typing (yes, there was such a thing), Populaire is not only set in the 1950s but it mostly could also have been made in the same chirpy decade.

Populaire takes us back to a time when being a secretary was a golden ladder out of small-town ennui, a job that could provide what one character calls “everything that a modern girl dreams of.” The film’s Rose Pamphyle (Francois) is that archetypical modern girl.

Rose is introduced late one night covetously eyeing the Triumph manual typewriter sitting in the place of honor in her father’s shop window in her tiny Normandy town. She is transfixed by this glamorous object, and soon is typing up a storm, two-finger style.

With this skill under her belt, Rose moves to the nearby city of Lisieux, where Louis Echard (Duris), a suave, chain-smoking insurance agent, hires her as his secretary.

Louis, a frustrated athlete with a drive to be No. 1, notices her typing abilities and determines to enter her in a regional speed-typing contest.

One of Populaire’s drawbacks is its nearly two-hour length. Other downsides include the film’s periodic misguided attempts to bring itself into the 21st century, including serious discussions about relationships and an out-of-nowhere sex scene.

Populaire is on firmer ground, frankly, when it pumps up the silliness. Its best moments are the way it handles the mass speed-typing competitions, which are presented with the verve of a keyboard Busby Berkeley.

Exclusive: Angelika Dallas

— Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

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