Director: Régis Roinsard
Cast: Romain Duris, Déborah François, Bérénice Bejo, Shaun Benson
Running time: 111 minutes
France, 1958. Rose (François) is a bit of a klutz with her head in the clouds, but when her would-be boss (Duris) notices her knack for typing, he enters her into a speed typing contest that will change her life.
What director Régis Roinsard has done to make Populaire is essential ask the question: “What if I made Rocky but substituted the boxing for typing?”. It’s about a nobody rising up the ranks to world fame, engaging in a shaky but ultimately powerful relationship along the way, all the while keeping themselves reigned in and not letting the changing world around them change who they are inside. This can also be seen in films like Cool Runnings, Dodgeball, The Blind Side and basically every underdog movie around.
One of the most impressive things about the film is how it makes a typing contest gripping. The trick is probably having strong, likable characters who you can root for. If you can create that, you can make a good film about practically anything. Rose (played by the wonderful Déborah François) wins us over with her cute clumsiness and striking beauty, while Louis cuts a stern, hard to approach figure but still has big heart that only needs some unearthing. It’s their opposing shells that bring create the chemistry, but ultimately their matching warm cores that have us root for them.
Populaire is strangely refreshing in its wrapping up of loose ends. For years, the story of the underdog winning the competition while simultaneously winning the heart of their sweet love became so common that it became a cliché, which led to a whole host of films trying to buck that trend, and have the hero perhaps not win the competitions, but win the moral victories which, depending on your philosophical point of view, is even bigger. But now that has become the cliché of underdog movies, so most of the time we’re watching it expecting the hero not to actually win. At the risk of giving away spoilers (although it’s hard to spoil a movie about typing), Populaire doesn’t feel the need to be modest with its heroes and heroines, and I have to say there was nothing cliché about it.
Roinsard has crafted a delightful, charming little picture that instead of shying away from the generic genre tropes, opts to fill them with as much joy and vigor as possible. Don’t let subtitles put you off.