‘Hopefully’ (‘Encore heureux’): Film Review

Courtesy of Europacorp
An endearing comic caper for our cash-strapped times.

Sandrine Kiberlain stars in this second feature from writer Benoit Graffin ('Priceless').

A recession era comedy with a heart, Hopefully (Encore heureux) depicts what happens when a picture-perfect Gallic clan is hit with long-term unemployment and possible eviction, then turns to a life of crime in order to pay the bills. It’s a far-fetched scenario that screenwriter-turned-director Benoit Graffin (Priceless) reigns in with a considerable amount of charm, casting two of France’s best comic actors – Sandrine Kiberlain (9-Month Stretch) and Edouard Baer (Chicken with Plums) – to portray a set of parents willing to let go of their morals in the name of love.

Distributed by Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp and shot on a €5 million budget, this intimate high-concept affair grows a bit too outlandish in its closing reels, yet builds a strong enough camaraderie among its party of four to make the hijinks seem worthwhile. Decent word of mouth could give the film a boost locally (where Kiberlain’s previous comedies have played well) while offshore engagements could hopefully stretch beyond the usual Francophone households.

A brief introduction presents us with a very nuclear family living it up in the Paris suburbs: Marie (Kiberlain) is the ideal blond housewife; Sam (Baer) a corporate exec who’s about to lose his job; Alexia (Carla Besnainou) the piano-playing daughter; and Clement (Mathieu Torloting) the electronics-obsessed younger son.

Cut to two years later. With Sam unable – and totally unwilling – to find gainful employment, the four are now packed into a tiny apartment in Paris’ swanky 16th arrondissement, buried under a mountain of debt and incapable of even buying groceries.

To take care of the latter, Marie has developed a scheme whereby she and her kids help a miserly old neighbor, Madeleine (Anna Gaylor), do her weekly shopping, then use the receipt to pilfer their own food supplies. It’s not exactly the kind of example a mother should be setting for her children, but given the dire situation she’s found herself in, the best Marie can say to them is: “We don’t steal – we get by.”

Graffin and three credited co-writers do a good job navigating the tricky ethical boundaries the family is willing to cross to protect its livelihood, partially justifying the behavior of Marie and the prideful, perpetually lazy Sam, while showing how much Alexia and Clement wind up following in the footsteps of their parents. (This despite Marie’s advice to “do the opposite of mom and dad” when they grow up.)

But things get much more complicated when Madeleine suddenly dies, and Alexia, who’s been taking piano lessons from the elderly woman, decides to hide the body and steal a valuable lamp, giving it to her father to sell on eBay. Thus begins a series of slip-ups that soon has the clan on the run from both the cops and a nosy concierge (Guilaine Londez), forcing them to eventually reconcile a stable home life with one of crime.

Such a set-up is not always easy to swallow, nor is the way in which things manage to work themselves out. Yet Graffin’s tender portrait of a family in peril makes for one of the more memorable comic takes on France’s recent and ongoing economic woes, especially the way in which the director captures Alexia’s troubled point-of-view – the way he shows how a young girl forces herself to accept, and mimic, what she knows to be morally wrong.

Both Kiberlain and Baer are convincing as a couple trying to stick together against all odds – this despite the fact that Marie winds up having a fling with a seductive neighbor (Benjamin Biolay) willing to pay a steep fee to capture her heart. 15-year-old Besnainou (Pirate TV) is excellent as a daughter torn between her own dreams and the messy realities at home, while veteran Bulle Ogier (Out 1) brings in a dose of senior anarchy as a grandmother going the distance to keep her loved ones afloat.

Production companies: E.D.I. Films, EuropaCorp
Cast: Sandrine Kiberlain, Edouard Baer, Carla Besnainou, Mathieu Torloting, Bulle Ogier, Anna Gaylor
Director: Benoit Graffin
Screenwriters: Mika Tard, Deborah Saiag, Nicolas Bedos, Benoit Graffin
Producers: Pauline Duhault, Christophe Lambert, Dominique Farrugia
Director of photography: Antoine Heberle
Production designer: Samantha Gordowski
Costume designer: Carine Sarfati
Editor: Jennifer Auge
Composer: Stephen Coates
Casting director: Giga Akoka
Sales: EuropaCorp

In French
93 minutes

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