Dir: Michel Blanc. France. 103mins
French comedy writer-actor Michel Blanc has struck critical and commercial pay dirt with his fourth directing effort in two decades. See How They Run is a darkly funny, sometimes farcical comedy of manners during a traditional summer holiday at the French seaside. Tart comic portraiture and dialogue, fine ensemble performances, and Blanc's assured handling of the complex overlapping narrative makes this one of the best and most exportable French comedies of the season. Domestically, film has received excellent reviews and has sold over 1.3 million tickets in five weeks.
It certainly won't hurt the film's chances abroad that it cannily gallicises a best-selling British novel by Joseph Connolly, Summer Things (1998) which was high in the French book charts last year. Blanc is a self-professed Anglophile, having set his previous film, Mauvaise Passe (1999), in London and adapted David Hare's The Blue Room for the Paris stage. In his script, he manages to preserve most of the book's characters and situations, while adding a few set pieces of his own invention (notably a climactic garden party where the entire cast is reunited for some final reckonings).
The film follows five couples one summer. The pivotal pair is Jacques Dutronc a successful businessman, and his wife, Charlotte Rampling, who, exhausted by a life of frenetic upper-middle class idleness, has her heart set on a restful break in a luxury hotel at Le Touquet, on the English Channel, where she is hopes to relive some childhood memories. Rampling convinces another couple they know, Karin Viard and Denis Podalydes, to join them, though Podalydes, insolvent and depressed, won't admit that they can't afford the holiday. While Rampling books rooms in the best five-star establishment in town, Polyades checks his horrified wife and son into a trailer camp where they must put on an elaborate charade to keep their shame a secret.
Rampling's plans go awry from the start when Dutronc, pleading a heavy workload, decides to stay home (to indulge in a homosexual fling with his transsexual assistant). In extremis, Rampling falls back on another friend, Clotilde Courau, to keep her company. But Coureau, a single mother unerring in her pursuit of Mr Wrong, immediately falls for a professional seducer, Vincent Elbaz. Their holiday is soon complicated by the presence of another couple, Carole Bouquet and her pathologically jealous husband (Blanc),.and Dutronc and Rampling's wild teenage daughter (Lou Doillon) who persuades Dutronc's haplessly lovestruck employee, Sami Bouajila, to take a trip with her to Chicago,-a trip surreptitiously paid for by a company credit card.
With the invaluable help of editor Maryline Monthieux, Blanc magisterially weaves an often cruel, sinuous web of emotional deceit, cowardice, resignation and farcical contretemps in summer playland. He proves his virtuosity in juggling a large cast of 10 principal players, all of whom turn in faultless performances that temper a sometimes pitiless view of middle class marriage and morality. Rampling, in particular, creates a subtly comic portrait of a vain but basically lucid wife who needs her cynical two-timing man just as much as he needs her. But the film's best blend of poignancy and hilarious characterisation comes from the marvellous Podalydes, the quintessential loser who succeeds at nothing, not even his own suicide.
Blanc, who is sometimes tagged the French Woody Allen - if only because of his physique and his tendency to be typecast in frenetically hapless types - does well for himself in the one-note role of the morbidly jealous husband. But it is clear that Blanc's future in French movies lies equally in writing and directing hilarious social comedies with a dark underside.
Prod cos: UGC YM, UGC Images, Mercury Film Productions, Dan Films, Alia Film, France 2 Cinema
Int'l dist: UGC International
Exec prods: Yves Marmion
Scr: Michel Blanc, based on Joseph Connolly's novel, Summer Things
Cinematography: Sean Bobbitt
Prod des: Benoit Baroux
Costumes: Olivier Berjot
Ed: Maryline Monthieux
Music: Mark Russell
Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Jacques Dutronc, Carole Bouquet, Michel Blanc, Karine Viard, Denis Podalydes, Clotilde Courau, Vincent Elbaz, Lou Doillon, Sami Bouajila