Competitive speed-typing is the unlikely subject of this French mash-up of a sports flick and a rom-com set in 1959.
Rose (Deborah Francois) is a shopkeeper’s daughter eager to escape the ennui of her provincial existence. She applies for a job as a secretary in Lisieux, a position that attracts a large number of conspicuously attractive applicants who dismiss her chances. Rose indeed makes a mess of her interview, but her formidable typing skills gain her a reprieve. Her boss, insurance agent Louis (Romain Duris), sees potential for her to win the regional speed-typing contest, even if this means enduring her disastrous performance in handling paperwork. In a nod to Pygmalion he even bets his American friend Bob (Shaun Benson) that he can train this girl to become the French national typing champion, a wager strongly disapproved of by Bob’s wife, Marie (Berenice Bejo); who was once almost married to Louis. But can Louis and Rose’s relationship remain strictly sporting?
So, how do you make speed-typing exciting? Well, the answer is to shoot the contests in what is probably the closest we’ll ever get to John Healy and I’s dream of ‘Un Film de Michel Bay’. ‘Un Film de Michel Bay’ should be thought of as an archetypal black and white Eric Rohmer film like Ma Nuit Chez Maud in which very serious and literate discussions of Pascal’s philosophy are organically interrupted by explosions of vehicular mayhem and spectacular pyrotechnics. The national championship in Paris is shot in just this fashion, with fast tracking back and forth between typewriters followed by bombastically heroic panning in a circle around the two typists. Director Regis Roinsard even inserts a proper Rocky training montage into proceedings just to demonstrate that speed-typing really is a sport; a point struck home to a snooty journalist.
But that nice visual gag and the elan of the typing sequences cannot disguise that this is merely an insubstantial rom-com mashed up with a sports movie set-up that is lacking in either good gags or character insight. The mind wanders so much that in a pivotal scene you tut-tut that Berenice Bejo is once again appearing in a film that explicitly steals from Vertigo, and then, as that scene changes completely in nature, you realise the appropriate 1958 movie to reference is in fact Les Amants. Far too explicit for its 12 rating, and falling between several stools in its attempt to address the legacy of the Resistance and the American liberation, feminism and sexual exploitation, you will be immensely frustrated when Populaire fails to stop at its natural ending, but persists on for an unconvincing parade of cliché.
Populaire is a feather-weight confection that could be commended as amusing were it 25 minutes shorter, but the fatal mistake of running thru a contrived finale renders it dull as it outstays its welcome.