Dir/scr: Sophie Fillieres. France. 2009. 105mins.
Quirky Parisian comedy Pardon My French is a fragile little charmer that eventually ouststays its welcome. But there’s enough in this droll tale, about a blocked authoress and the teenage girl who stalks her, to tickle upscale audiences at home (where it opens on March 25) and in Francophile centres elsewhere. Julie Delpy’s 2 Days In Paris could make a good box-office benchmark though Pardon My French lacks that film’s universal romantic baseline.
The film also represents a return to form for Chiara Mastroianni who seems to have lost her way in recent years. Mastroianni’s deadpan tragicomic performance here has echoes of Buster Keaton, and pulls off the difficult feat of keeping sentimentalism at bay without making the character unsympathetic.
“The film represents a return to form for Chiara Mastroianni who seems to have lost her way in recent years”
At first the film consists of little more than a series of sketches revolving around novelist and single mother Celimene (Mastroianni) who also goes by the name of Natasha. There’s an amusing scene in a shop where Celimene goes to buy cigarettes but she can’t actually be seen to buy them, because she’s given up. And in a Tati-esque silent sequence we see her in her flat, which is being decorated. Frustrated by the plastic sheeting that covers everything, she eventually finds a way underneath the plastic, and curls up on her bed.
Celimene is a published author with depressive tendencies, who is tussling rather hopelessly with writer’s block. While the decorators re-do her home, she has moved into her mother’s apartment with eight-year-old son Adam. There’s a nice human comedy in these family scenes as Celimene explains to her son why it’s unreasonable of him to be afraid of scurvy in this day and age, or when we see her making a cake in her sleep (a recurring gag), observed by her sharp-tongued mother (an enjoyable comic turn by Valadie).
Upcoming talent Bonitzer plays Anais, a smart teenage girl who stalks Celimene and steals her mail. In a way, this main plotline comes as a slight disappointment after the inspired semi-improv scenes of the opening quarter of the film. Although Anais is an original character with comic mileage, the meetings between her and Celimene have a slightly forced feel; more convincing are the scenes in which Celimene attempts a doomed reconciliation with her former live-in lover, Antoine (Zidi).
Music consists of jaunty piano trills which set the unsolemn agenda but become a little irritating at times. But this oddball comedy’s main flaw is its overlong running time - it would benefit from shedding at least ten minutes.
Pierre Grise Productions
Les Films du Losange
(33) 6 89 85 96 95
Mateo Julio Cedron