The double-dose of French cinema courtesy of The Weinstein Company is upon us and isn’t likely to hang around for long. Foreign films have enough of challenge attracting viewers and even with The Carolina’s two-for-the-price-of-one offer, when the biggest name in either work is “the girl who was in The Artist,” the audience dwindles further. Likewise not helping matters is that neither Populaire nor Haute Cuisine are exactly beacons of fine French filmmaking. Though it’s tempting to embrace the strong feminist stance that each offering takes, both messages are trapped within conventional wrappings that make each tough to recommend.
The better of the two, Régis Roisard’s Populaire follows the underdog sports movie formula with speed typing in place of a more widely recognized activity. Taking its title from a brand of typewriter, the story of transcription extraordinaire Rose Pamphyle (Déborah François) and her boss/coach Louis Échard (L’Auberge Espagnole’s Romain Duris) is pleasant, though one that’s been seen many times before and which isn’t granted much originality by the unusual environment. In many ways, it’s Rocky except with the Italian Stallion falling in love with Mickey. While that angle can work if done in new and exciting ways, the multi-step nature of the typing competitions yield a great deal of predictability and few surprises.
Even with accepting the unavoidable narrative arc, accepting speed typing as the big deal it apparently is, complete with its own hysterical fans, is a constant hurdle. Encouraging the conversion is the overall whimsical mood, aided by an excellent use of Leroy Anderson’s “Forgotten Dreams” as the main love theme and another memorable round with “Claire de Lune,” courtesy of Louis’s childhood friend and Rose’s piano teacher, Marie (The Artist’s Bérénice Bejo). Still, down the well-worn road the film goes and at 111 minutes it’s a good 30 too long.
Rated R for a scene of sexuality.
On the other end is Christian Vincent’s Haute Cuisine, one of the more bland biopics in some time. Hired as the personal chef for President François Mitterrand (Jean d’Ormesson), Hortense Laborie (based on Danièle Mazet-Delpeuch and played by Catherine Frot) operates as she sees fit and battles the sexism of the all-male main kitchen, whose chefs equate her to an opportunistic whore. Juxtaposed with scenes from Hortense’s last day as chef for a French expedition crew on an Antarctic island, a gig she took for a year, it’s pleasant to at last see her appreciated by an entire room of people and not merely the President. Positivity aside, though, these scenes feel like the culmination of a long journey that Vincent hasn’t shown with payoffs that haven’t been earned.
With Haute Cuisine being a cooking film, some of the food photography, especially vibrant close-ups of Hortense’s first Presidential meal, is appealing but under utilized. The entire story is essentially a cycle of preparing and delivering these meals, yet besides planning, cooking, and the occasional professional dustups, there’s no plot of which to speak. While the variety of edibles and the processes behind them change, the characters largely don’t and their stagnant nature bogs down the flow. Minus these essential ingredients, the film severely limits its reach and undoes much of its intended positivity.
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.
Populaire and Haute Cuisine are currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.