Les petits mouchoirs – Review

Les petits mouchoirs (Little White Lies) 2010 

Directed by Guillaume Canet. Starring François CluzetMarion CotillardJean Dujardin

When watching Carnet’s third film, you’ll be excused from drawing some obvious comparisons with the 1983 hit classic the Big Chill:  not only the story of a group of friends gathering together for a holiday and ending up taking their skeletons out of the closets is a fairly familiar territory, but also the way the film itself is handled, with that mixture of comedy and drama and a constant (and most of the times fairly random) soundtrack of old American songs playing in the background.

The film starts off with a spectacular piece of cinematic bravura: a one take wonder which serves as an introduction for the rest of the film (though I must confess it’s so perfectly well choreographed that actually makes you expect the big surprise that’s about to come). Unfortunately this perfectly well-timed sequence is a rather isolated example in an otherwise indulgent and over-long film. In fact, after the striking beginning it takes at least a good 30 minutes before the actual holiday (and the real film) starts. Thinking back at it, with hindsight, it would have been quite easy to cut all that part out and set it all up just during the holiday. It would have also brought the film down in length from those 154 minutes. Yes, the accident sequence was very good, but did we really need to see it ?

But aside from few indulgences, once the film actually gets going it is a real delight. There are some individual very funny moments (the one where two friends get stranded on a boat gets my top marks…) and generally speaking the inter-relationship between all the various characters is beautifully portrayed and very well observed.

Of course, the whole things couldn’t be more French and, seen from the eyes of a foreigner, all the so-called clichés that you would expect from these sort of people seem to be there: from the hysterical dialogue, to the wine drinking, the talk about sex and to the fact that they could all end up in each other’s bed… and just when you think you’ve seen it all, a man shows up with a baguette under his arm (really!).

However none of that takes anything away from the genuinely affecting drama that unfolds under your eyes.

And just like in “the big chill”, underneath the surface and all the laughs, there’s an impending sense of nostalgia that permeates the atmosphere.

All the performances are top-notch; so much so that they make real even some of the most far-fetched situations. These could be friends who spent most of their life knowing each other.

François Cluzet, resembling more and more Dustin Hoffman, gets some of the best lines: his storyline about a man who’s just been told by his best friend that he’s in love with him, is probably the most original and definitely the most entertaining. Everything else is pretty standard for this sort of “re-union” films and yet perfectly enjoyable and very engaging.

But while some of the characters work better than others, sadly it’s the women that are most two-dimensional (with the single exception of Marion Cotillard) to the point that more than an hour into the film I was still not quite sure about how many where actually there.

The film runs slightly out of steam towards the final act where the dialogue becomes more forced and a certain tendency to give every character a cathartic moment starts to creep in.

The tearful drawn-out ending to the notes of Nina Simone’s version of “My Way”, however moving, was probably a step too far and where subtlety really went out of the window.

On the whole it felt like a very personal film made by a director who should have been kept more on a leash by a more watchful producer. There’s absolutely no excuse for a film of this kind to be so long!

And yet, despite all its weaknesses I’m still giving it a thumb up. Would I watch it again? Definitely not. But I certainly did enjoy it the first time around.

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3 Responses to Les petits mouchoirs – Review

  1. Guy Savage says:

    Thanks, I’ll see if I can rent this one. Addicted to French film…. and noir…

  2. I’m a fan of Benoît Magimel and recently got into various French movies because of him. I personally I didn’t like this one at all. It was way too long and loosely edited with unnecessary melodrama at the end (the long funeral scene with actors taking turns crying…..) and it was rather painful for me to finish it. It’s true that we as “foreigners” (non-French film lovers) might not get all the nuances of a French flick but I do think we can tell when a film is good or bad. Just my two cents! :)

    • MovieGeek says:

      Your 2 cents is very welcome indeed. I agree about the fact that it was too long and that it did fall into melodrama, however I cannot deny that I did enjoy some of it ;)

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