Dir: BrigitteRouan. Fr-UK. 2005. 95mins.
Actor turneddirector Brigitte Rouan turns in the French cinematic equivalent of the'chick-lit' novel in Housewarming, a breezily disposable comedy about anindependent professional woman whose life goes into a chaotic spin. Builtaround an elegant but rather stiff central performance by Carole Bouquet, thefilm is an unexpectedly fluffy product from Rouan, who directed and starred inthe harrowing Post Coitum Animal Triste in 1997.
Extremely wellreceived by audiences in Directors' Fortnight at Cannes, the film - one of thefinal productions from the late Humbert Balsan - has played well in France, butas an undistinguished example of a strictly mainstream local star-based comedy,it's unlikely to travel well. However, festivals specialising in moremiddle-brow French fare will find it a dependable crowd-pleaser.
Bouquet playsParis lawyer Chantal, first seen in one of several rather creaky song-and-dancefantasy sequences, charming the pants off a courtroom with an imaginary CydCharisse routine, all legs and poise. Chantal is a committed, successfulspecialist in defending immigration cases, and the recently divorced mother oftwo teenage children.
But her lovelife is shaky, and she finds herself against her will getting involved with ahighly unsuitable suitor, effusively vulgar man-mountain Frankie (Castaldi).Partly as a ploy to shake him off, she agrees to have her apartment made overby an ambitious young Colombian architect (Di Fonzo Bo).
A team of mainlyLatin American workmen move in full-time and predictably make mincemeat ofChantal's flat and life, with (as the saying goes) uproarious results.
Most of thefilm's charm relies on the one-gag conceit of the impeccably poised and soigneBouquet letting down her hair and her dignity in assorted knockabout gags. Buteven hanging upside down, sunk up to her ankles in cement or high on aworkman's spliff, Bouquet never quite lets herself get dirty, and in theincreasingly tiresome musical moments, she seems ill at ease: with the bestwill in the world, Bouquet rapping and breakdancing is marginally lessconvincing than Warren Beatty in Bulworth.
Politically, Housewarminghas its heart very much in the right place, at times too obviously so, as agesture of solidarity with the sans papiers, the immigrants whose rightsChantal defends.
The film endswith a dedication to those who come from all over the world "to enrich ourculture", and the film hardly stints on the assorted African, Asian and Latinofigures who come into Chantal's life, with the result that most remainunder-developed as characters.
Much of thevisual comedy, centred on the gradual destruction and dazzling reconstructionof Chantal's flat is mechanical, but not without ingenuity. Rouan and her teamare certainly to be congratulated on the considerable logistical challenge thatmust have been involved, and one can only imagine that the film must have beenshot in sequence.
But as aportrait of the professional woman whose perfect life is clearly lacking thattouch of love, warmth and comedy, Housewarming is altogetherconventional - right down to the adorably unruly teenage son and daughter whoseem mandatory in French treatments of this theme.
Overall, Rouantries too hard to please, and a last-minute surprise cameo by Hugh Grant onlyadds to the effect of cutesy contrivance. The film is considerably livened up,however, by its supporting cast, with the likes of Castladi, Di Fonzo Bo andespecially Aldo Maccione, as a tempestuous Italian tiling specialist, feastingon their oversize, if cartoonish characters.
Arte France Cinema
Martial di Fonzo Bo