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‘Populaire’: The secretary’s just his type

Deborah Francois is winning as typing whiz who has wchampionships keep her job “Populaire.”

Deborah Francois is winning as a typing whiz who has to win championships to keep her job in “Populaire.”

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‘POPULAIRE’ ★★★

Romain Duris Louis Echard

Deborah Francois Rose Pamphyle

Marie Taylor Berenice Bejo

Bob Taylor Shaun Benson

The Weinstein Co. presents a film written and directed by Regis Roinsard. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 111 minutes. Rated R (for a scene of sexuality). Opens Friday at the Music Box Theatre.

Updated: October 15, 2013 6:24AM



World-class athletic competition probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think about typewriters (assuming you’re old enough to recall such contraptions) and candy-colored fantasy romance.

So it’s impressive that French writer/director Régis Roinsard, in his feature debut, has managed to link all three together in a way
that feels whimsically, almost effortlessly right. “Populaire” clicks along delightfully when it is content to be a light, fanciful confection. The keys only get tangled when it takes itself a bit too seriously.

Roinsard has set his story in the late 1950s, an era most people these days probably would identify with TV’s “Mad Men.” Apart from the fashions, though, “Populaire” has much more in common with the bright, lightly antagonistic, teasingly chaste Rock Hudson/Doris Day romantic comedies of
the time, such as 1959’s “Pillow Talk.” That is, to the extent any French romance can be expected to be chaste — teasingly or
otherwise.

Young Rose (Deborah Francois, an Audrey Hepburn-like charmer here, best known previously for an intensely dramatic role in 2005’s “L’Enfant”) has grown up in a small town in Normandy, where she’s expected to work in her father’s shop until she gets married. Rose has more up-to-date ambitions, though, in addition to a secret talent: a savant-like ability to type blazingly fast with two fingers. So she decides to move to the Big City (actually the nearby provincial burg of Liseaux) and live the emancipated life of a modern professional secretary.

Unfortunately, Rose doesn’t have the qualifications to match her ambitions, and she’s about to be shown the door after her first job interview when she impulsively demonstrates her blinding speed at hunting and pecking. Utterly dazzled is debonair insurance agent Louis (Romaine Duris, also best known for serious roles, with a sneering smile that’s somewhat disconcerting here), a frustrated athlete who believes he can train her to be a speed-typing champion. Of course, the way her hair becomes carnally disheveled and the shoulder of her dress slips off during her typing frenzy might have something to do with his enthusiasm.

Louis is all business, however, even after he moves Rose into his country manor to give her piano lessons and teach her to type with 10 fingers — with the understanding that she must win the Normandy championship to keep her job. Followed by the regional championship, then the national championship, then the championship of the world in New York City, if all goes well, while the nature of their relationship gradually begins to change, mais bien sûr.

“Populaire” has no interest in rewriting the rules of romantic comedy, but it does run through the expected paces with admirable style, with a glossy, Technicolor production design that sometimes makes it seem it might have been made in the ’50s, not just set
there. There’s enough infectious energy during the increasingly intense typing competitions to be worthy of Frank Tashlin (“The
Girl Can’t Help It,” “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?”) at his best.

“Populaire” doesn’t work when it goes out of step with the era it’s emulating, or when Roinsard drops his playful, stylized approach and tries to interest us in the assorted issues of Louis as they affect his relationship with Rose. Psychological realism isn’t required for this sort of story — the guy just needs to wise up. With the least possible amount of drama.

Bruce Ingram is a local freelance writer.



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