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May 28, 2013
When I saw The Hollywood Reporter’s quotation on the underground ads for Populaire: ‘Mad Men meets The Artist’ I was not immediately endeared. I have never watched Mad Men, although I have heard great things and although I liked The Artist a lot it did disappoint me somewhat because I was expecting life-changing things the way everyone went on about it. Besides all this, I’m a ‘believe it when I see it’ kind of person when it comes to films and it’s hard for me to get excited about anything by word of mouth. So I went into Populaire with lowered expectations, which may have contributed to my overall surprise at just how charming and funny it turned out to be.
Set in 1950s France, Rose Pamphyle is the daughter of a man who owns the village store where she finds her first typewriter and dreams (as apparently all the girls did at the time) of being a modern girl and becoming a secretary. She travels to Lisieux, Normandy for an interview with the achingly handsome Louis Echard who is at first reluctant to hire Rose but is fascinated by her typing skills, which is speedy but only involves using her index fingers on each hand. He takes her under his wing for a trial week, at the end of which he tries to fire her but then begins to feel some sympathy and cuts a deal – she can stay and work for him but she must compete in a typewriting competition. He begins to insist that she use all ten fingers after her first loss, which they come to blows over but in the run-up to nationals and international competition the inevitable spark between them ignites.
I was afraid at first that the film would be too conventional – too 50s, if you know what I mean. The secretaries swooning over Louis in the interview scene made me vomit in my mouth a little bit, but actually Rose is quite the strong female character. After finding out that Louis competed as an athlete in his youth, we see how his need to win comes out in his intense pressure on Rose and it often feels like he’s trying to control her. Yet Rose herself seems determined to make her own way and make her own success. She begrudgingly welcomes Louis’s pushy attitude, not only because she knows it will motivate her but because clearly she holds a great deal of reverence and affection for him. The colours in the film, used for the storyline when Rose paints her nails to match her fingers with the correct typewriter keys, are one of the best parts of the visuals, popping off the screen in a very 1950s-esque way. It is true, this isn’t the deepest of French films but I found it delightfully fresh considering the time period setting; one for a sad Sunday afternoon.
Populaire is released in cinemas Friday 31st May.