Directed by Régis Roinsard
Starring Roman Duris, Déborah François
Playing at Lincoln Plaza, Village East
In French with English subtitles
“Populaire” is a sunny French comedy that’s more or less indistinguishable from a ’50s studio picture. With punchy dialogue livening up a classical battle-of-the-sexes romantic blueprint and poodle skirts and bouffant hairstyles to spare, the movie offers an immersion in a nostalgic sensibility.
Déborah François plays Rose, hired as the secretary to insurance man Louis (Roman Duris). She’s a precocious young woman; he’s slightly older and infinitely bitterer. It’s quickly apparent that she’s bad at her job. But she sure can type quickly, so Louis resolves to train her for a typist competition.
The film follows this rigorous process, in which hours are devoted to transcribing Flaubert, learning a color-coordinated typewriter, physical exercise and more. Of course, the entire typing plot is really just an extended meet cute, a conduit for what the audience really wants: a heavy dose of the romantic chemistry between François and Duris.
Light-as-a-feather and utterly inconsequential, the film never deigns to offer “Mad Men”-style contemporary musings on the gender politics, archetypal figures and overall social strata of the ’50s.
At its essence, this spin on “Pygmalion” is a film of likable actors playing likable characters, who help each other heal and grow. Throw in enough authentic period touches to satisfy the most ardent history buff and you’ve got a perfectly engaging night at the movies.