MRR Review: "Populaire"

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Set in 1958, Populaire focuses on Rose Pamphyle, who lives with her widowed father and is destined to marry a son of the local mechanic. Rose applies for a secretarial job with an insurance agency run by Louis Échard. Louis learns that Rose can type with extraordinary speed and he tells her to compete in a speed typing competition if she wants the job. Louis then begins training Rose to become the fastest typist in the world.
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MRR Review: "Populaire"

Rating: R for a scene of sexuality
Length: 111 minutes
Release Date: November 28, 2012
Directed by: Regis Roinsard
Genre: Romantic Comedy

"Populaire" is a French romantic comedy released in 2012. It was directed by Regis Roinsard who also co-wrote the script with Romain Compingt and Daniel Presley. The title of the film comes from the name of the featured typewriter, Japy Populaire. This film is based on the true story of Rose Pamphyle, who was trained by Louis Echard to become the world's fastest typist. Deborah Francois plays Rose and Romain Duris plays Louis.

This film is set in 1958 and focuses on Rose, a secretary who lives with her father. Rose is planning to marry a local mechanic's son and applies for a secretarial position with an insurance company. Louis runs the company and becomes interested in Rose after he learns that she can type extremely quickly. He tells Rose that he will hire her if she enters a speed typing competition. Rose then begins training for the typing competition. Rose initially types with only one finger from each hand, so much of the film deals with Rose learning to type with all 10 fingers at world-class speed.

Director Roinsard originally intended to cast an unknown actress for the part of Rose, but he changed his mind when he saw François audition. François was already a well-known actress in Belgium, her native country. François' father found a manual typewriter, which she used for one week to practice for the audition. Françoise told Georgia Dehn of The Daily Telegraph in a 2012 interview that everyone who watched her audition thought she was a professional typist because she was so fast. She added that she told Roinsard that she hadn't practiced and was merely motivated to get the part.

François says that she felt an immediate connection with Rose after reading the script because the character's clumsiness. She took a professional typing course for six months to prepare for the role and practiced for as much as three hours each day. François adds that no special effects were used and that her hands appear in all of the closeups.

Duris was initially concerned about the period costumes and speaking style used extensively in the film. He felt these elements would overwhelm the film, entrapping it in the 1950s. His concerns were alleviated after watching several films from that period starring James Stewart and Cary Grant. He also watched films by the renowned French directors Claude Chabro and Marcel Carne to observe the differences in speaking style between the 1950s and today.

The film's basic story of the secretary overcoming her simple beginnings to melt her chauvinistic boss's cold heart is clearly an intentional throwback to the romantic comedies of the 1950s. Veteran filmgoers will be reminded of romantic comedies starring Rock and Hudson Doris Day. Its style is established at the very beginning of the film with an opening sequence designed by animator Alexandre Courtes. "Populaire" also features a double-slap-kiss scene, which was a trademark of romantic comedies from that era. In this scene, Rose slaps Louis, Louis slaps Rose, and then they kiss passionately.

Rose is perky and cute in a way that is reminiscent of a blonde Audrey Hepburn, although her appearance isn't what initially attracts Louis to Rose. Louis is a confirmed bachelor and not romantically interested in Rose at the beginning of the film; instead, he sees Rose as a protégé who has the ability to elevate hie status in the insurance world.

This dynamic makes "Populaire" reminiscent of "My Fair Lady" on a superficial level, with Louis's insistence on referring to Rose as "Pumpkin." However, the film also contains the theme of female empowerment on a deeper level. Rose tries to get Louis to treat her as an equal partner rather than a prize filly, modernizing the film. This theme is reinforced by Louis's cooking talents and soft boyish features, which give him a very different appearance from that of a classic leading man.

Rose and Lewis are unable to make an emotional commitment to each other, although they do have premarital sex in one scene. This scene represents the primary departure from classic romantic comedies, but it doesn't affect the film's main plot or cause it to drift into postmodern cynicism. "Populaire" remains strongly focused on its cornball sentiment, which Roinsard polishes to a high-gloss in his directorial debut.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars