Saturday, 15 December 2018

Pink frocks and frills in feminist romcom

IF ever a trailer could be said not to give a true flavour of a film then the advert for

Review by Lesley Potter

Film: Populaire
Certificate: (12A)
Director: Régis Roinsard
Starring: Déborah Francois, Romain Duris

IF ever a trailer could be said not to give a true flavour of a film then the advert for this film is it.

Marketed as a cross between Mad Men and The Artist, and with a trailer that zooms in on the elegant Fifties dresses and painted nails of typists, this film looked like being a piece of mindless, pre-feminist fluff.

It’s not.

In fact it’s the opposite. It’s intelligent, funny, charming, heart-warming... and just about the best feelgood movie out so far this year.

It’s spring 1958 and 21-year-old Rose Pamphyle, who lives with her grumpy father above the village store, sneaks off to Lisieux in Normandy for a job interview along with 30 other hopeful young ladies.

Although she’s clumsy and awkward and not a terribly good secretary, she has one great talent — she’s taught herself to type with two fingers at extraordinary speed.

The handsome insurance agency boss, Louis Echard, takes her on — but he has ulterior motives. The pretty young woman has awoken a dormant passion in him. The Second World War resistance fighter and former athlete has a fierce competitive spirit — and soon he’s got Rose training for the regional typing championships.

He takes it terribly seriously, even colour-coding the keys on the typewriter to match her nails, so she knows which finger to use on which button. In their quest to beat the American world champion’s record of 500 strokes a minute, his rigorous training regime stops at nothing.

This is a story set in a time when men were men, women were women and typewriting meant not being able to hit the delete button. It’s easy for women these days to look down on typing and shorthand as being the preserve of the blonde bimbo, but in the Fifties becoming a secretary for a young girl meant a whole lot more — freedom, independence and your own salary. It was probably the equivalent nowadays of a woman becoming the first female astronaut.

But this is, of course, far more than a movie about typing. It’s a romantic comedy turned on its head. Rose turns out to be just as feisty and competitive as her boss, and the chemistry between them is electric. The script is sharp and witty, and there are several laugh-out-loud moments.

But what makes this film quite special is that the writers have cottoned on to one of those inexplicable phenomena — there’s something strangely sexy about an old-fashioned typewriter.

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