What I Watched: Populaire
Sniff. Cough. Hack. Repeat. Toss some explosive AHHHHHHH-CHOOOOOOs into the mix, and that appropriately describes my germy existence for the last half of February. Not one to enjoy the confines of a single place for long durations, I started to become an uncontrollable heap of seething anger. After five sniffy days on the couch, not even the cats dared to approach me. In these times of the lesser plague, few things will assuage the irritability of being home sick, and those include feel-good TV and movie marathons. To maintain even a feeble momentum, I generally binge on the timeless comedic escapades of Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sophia; or, I travel to Stars Hollow hoping that Rory and Lorelai will actually find their small-town love. If the girls golden or Gilmore are not enough to lessen the nuisance of a raw nose, I then turn to the big screen. There are the sick day basics: Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Chocolat, and Àmelie. Yes- when I’m feeling my absolute worst, I need a strong female character who overcomes adversity AND finds romance. A full heart is the only cure, right? However, this virus was fierce- not even my feminist cinematic tactics were working. I needed something new. Was it risky to gamble on Netflix? Yes. A terrible movie could have been a devastating setback for recovery. Alas, with the meager energy I managed to muster, I met Rose Pamphyle and wheezily swooned over the fluffy romantic comedy that is Populaire.
Traveling to 1958, Populaire tells the story of the fiery and quirky klutz, Rose Pamphyle (Deborah François). Rose- a hopeless dreamer- finds herself destined for a greater life outside of her tiny French village and away from her curmudgeon widowed father, which then would have been landing an esteemed secretarial position anywhere else. C’est pour les femmes modernes! In order to escape an unwanted engagement to the town mechanic, Rose sneaks into her father’s shop nightly to practice typing. Adopting her own unique and speedy method, she confidently applies and interviews for a secretarial opening in a Normandy town under a dashing insurance boss, Louis Échard (Romain Duris). Monsieur Échard initially dismisses Rose after a horrible interview, until he discovers her unusual typing talent. Bypassing the rest of the notably attractive female candidates, he hires Rose for a trial period.
Rose is a terrible secretary. After a myriad of calamity, Échard’s patience deteriorates, and he ponders her termination until he learns of a local speed typing competition. He is convinced Rose would win. Competitive by nature having been a former athlete himself, Échard wagers a friendly bet with his close friend, Bob (Shaun Benson), that he can mold Rose into France’s next speed typing champion! Instead of firing her, Échard offers a permanent position at his insurance agency in exchange for her participation in the competition. Reluctant but refusing to return to her former doomed village life, Rose agrees to Échard’s terms and adopts him as her speed typing trainer. After hours of arduous preparation and training, Échard insists this is all to help Rose, but we soon discover it is she who actually helps him.
Populaire has torpedoed its way to first place in my repertoire of feel-good movies. Rose Pamphyle is the French version of Audrey Hepburn’s beloved character, Holly Golightly, in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (another personal favorite). Rose is adorable, quirky, and unapologetically determined to ditch the yokel life for a greater purpose. She’s got a feisty but warm and loveable spirit. One of the best moments in the movie is when a newly successful Rose stars in the typewriter commercial for Japy. This is the fulfilled and confident Rose we’ve been dying to see. At this point in the movie, you’ve likely fallen in love with her- if you aren’t heartless, that is. She’s so pleased and confident with herself, I was genuinely happy for her. I found myself shouting, “You go, Rose!”
Then there is Louis Échard. Oh, Monsieur Échard. Romain Duris plays an impeccably charming bachelor that you want to hate but cannot. He is a shameless playboy, unreasonably tough on sweet Rose. Every time he refers to her as ‘mon chou’, or his pumpkin, I reluctantly tuck away my Feminism 101 manual. His behavior is completely condescending by current… alright, ALL… standards, but admittedly I found myself blushing every time he and Rose lock eyes. While rigid on the exterior, Échard conceals a loving core. He’s got baggage. Our handsome protagonist is the victim of the unfathomable unrequited love. Torture. If there is anything outside of the franco-sphere that you will soon learn about me from this blog is that when it comes to male characters, I L-O-V-E a tortured soul. We’ll save that psychological analysis for another day. At any rate, Échard is as tortured as it gets- a failed athlete who is constantly vying for the approval of an unjustly critical father, AND he lost his first true love to his best friend. Échard really needs a hug.
For one hour and fifty-one minutes, Populaire made me forget that breathing felt like inhaling rusty nails. This delightful story about the unlikely pairing of a dreamer and a Casanova took me to new levels of happiness- even in a miserable, drippy state. If these characters alone don’t warm your soul, I feel confident that the lighthearted plot and exquisite period fashion will delight. I don’t advise going into this film expecting a storyline with the complexity of Sartre essay. Populaire is a frothy flick. Buy some rose flavored macarons, pour yourself a generous glass of chilled Sancerre, and temporarily succumb to your bubblegum teeny-bopper fantasies. Populaire earns whopping FOUR Eiffel Towers for making me an approachable human again.
À la prochaine, mes choux!