Ah, love. There’s nothing else the French are more known for, especially in cinema. De Vrais Mensoges (Beautiful Lies for North America) is a cute romantic comedy, starring Audrey Tautou and Sami Bouajila.
The movie itself isn’t particularly clever or insightful, but romantic comedies don’t need to be. Tatou plays Émilie, a streetwise salon owner, who receives a note from a secret admirer. Unbeknownst to Émilie, that admirer is none other than the salon’s janitor, Jean (Bouajila), who also has a few surprises up his sleeve.
There are some interesting issues of class and race that play out in this film. A scene with two Asian women is pivotal, though it mostly plays as comedy to the audience.
Complications arise when Émilie decides to copy her admirer’s note and send it to her mother Maddy (Nathalie Baye), a depressed divorcee unwilling to leave her home. The thought of a secret admirer invigorates Maddy, which inevitably leads to Émilie continuing to send letters in the guise of the nameless admirer. Eventually Jean is drawn into the scheme as well, and hilarity (and heartbreak) ensues.
I found the movie fairly compelling, for rom com fare. However, I must point out that the last act includes plotting that might not mesh well with typical American values. We in the states tend to like our lines drawn clear, at least in rom coms and action films. Émilie never quite becomes a likeable person. In fact, the character has few redeeming qualities, save her love for her mother. Furthermore, Maddy’s little revenge near the end of the film will come as a shocker–and an unnecessary one, at that–to American audiences.
My verdict? I liked the film. It was fresh and fun, and moved at a lively pace. Director Pierre Salvadori has a keen eye for humor and the light syncopation of flirtation and lust. There was just enough variation in plot and tone to differentiate the film from the usual genre fluff, though not enough variation to push the movie to the top of 2010’s offerings.
Tautou is lovely, as always, and Bouajila makes a believable, albeit passive, leading man. Though talent could be found in all aspects on screen, the scene-stealer was certainly Nathalie Baye. With Maddy, Baye manages to create a character who is at once pathetic and endearing, with both a loving heart and a malicious streak.
I screened this film at the ColCoa French Film Festival earlier this year, and it was a treat to be able to sit back and enjoy some lighter fare, along with darker films such as My Piece of the Pie (Ma part du gâteau) and more sentimental pieces like My Afternoons With Margueritte (La Tête en friche). Reviews of both of those films coming soon.