I am no fan of nostalgia. Whilst I accept that progress isn't always for the better, I know that the past is full of mistakes that we still have time to put right. I am though as vulnerable to idealising the past as others and in our current rather straightened times, the "golden era" when we never had it so good does prove an attractive diversion. The success of the likes of Mad Men is not lost on me, even if I don't partake myself. Populaire is a film sumptuously carved out of nostalgia, a movie that reminded me as much of Doris Day and Rock Hudson as it did of patriarchy. For all of the delightful Deborah Francois's pluck and the warm romance here, the sheer minimising of the heroine because of her gender is thoroughly distressing - the father who wants her to marry the mechanic's son, the lover who hides her existence and calls her "pumpkin", and her own very limited dream to be just a secretary.
Set in the late fifties, Populaire is the debut feature of Regis Roinsard filmed on a smallish budget of around £10 million and boasting the likes of the pouting Romain Duris, the award winning Francois, and the Oscar nominated Bejo. For a debut, this is assured - filmed with great wit, ambitious production design, and an unashamedly populist approach to this nostalgic romance.So we get a story of a village girl, Rose(Francois), who dreams of becoming a secretary and who secures a position with Duris due to her fantastic typing speed. Soon Duris decides to take on her training and tutor her in the ways of five fingered touch typing, and his ambition and her ability takes them to the national final for speed typing before love rears its ugly head. Will the ingenue Rose fall apart, will the unhappy Duris overcome his own doubts?
You can relax as those last two questions are rhetorical, yet I imagine you can probably answer them once you have taken in a few minutes of the film itself. Which you should because this is beautifully performed, with Francois a terrific heroine whose undeniable acting chops give depth to what otherwise could have been a thankless feminist baiting role of subservience and quiet prettiness. Duris, meanwhile, gets to enjoy the faults and darkness of his character who eventually learns to get what his heart desires. Returning to my original point, Roinsard is wise to not skimp on the sexism and allows the modern viewer to enjoy the costumes and the outdated tech whilst trusting them to know what a twit Duris is when he sermonises on the place of women. In this regard, the most canny element of the film proves the thematic exchange in the development of Rose from clutzy girl to empowered woman, and Duris' characters journey from pompous wannabe to heartbroken man.
Finally, and I say this with little expectation of contradiction, no film has made typing so exciting, the contests are filmed with zip and the corny expectations of empowerment tales are played out with relative sincerity. If you only ever watch one French comedy about typewriters, this is probably the one. Heartily recommended.
Entertainment One have done a fine job here with all of the disc's material presented in high definition although the disc itself is region B only. The special features include four trailers for other product that play when the disc is first inserted, and 5 short 2-3 minute chapters of a short making of featurette. The featurette deals with the origins of the story - Roinsard watching a documentary on typewriters and deciding to change the focus of his planned "sport" screenplay - and the importance of capturing the era. Francois, Duris and production staff contribute seemingly straight off set with some location shooting included as well.Onto the feature itself, the film comes with hard of hearing subtitles and English audio description and two lossless audio options in French. The 5.1 master audio track seemed to have been created with a good feel for the sound-stage and voices and effects do come from across the speakers, even if the rears are primarily used for soundtrack music. The existence of the second lossless stereo track will help those whose equipment can't manage the master audio mix.
The main feature comes in a 30.3 GB file, encoded at 23.98 frames per second using the AVC/MPEG 4 codec. This colourful production is presented naturally without excessive edge enhancement or obvious filtering at the ratio of 1.85:1, which seems at odds to the reported OAR of 2.35:1 which I believe the French releases are framed at. Black levels are excellent, detail is strong and only the question about aspect ratio can really be raised against this release.
A fine romantic comedy - now how many times have I written those words! This UK blu-ray may be cropped to achieve a 1.85:1 presentation - a pity given how good the image and sound are. A final note for those who like to know these things, the film does include nudity during a sex scene - surprising given the BBFC rating of 12.