‘Le Beau monde’: Film Review
Rising French star Ana Girardot plays a pretty small-town girl trying to make it in Paris
Honore de Balzac’s classic novel Le Pere Goriot was one of the first great books to deal with what would become a frequent plot in French literature: a young man (or occasionally, young woman) making the journey from the countryside to the City of Lights, where he (or she) would find work, romance and prosperity, but always at a price.
Offering up a contemporary take on the iconic Paris-Province tale, yet failing to give it any real passion or gravitas, Julie Lopes-Curval’s Le Beau monde follows a 20-something girl from Normandy who meets a handsome young Parisian, leaving her friends and family behind as she tries to make headway in the fashion world. It’s a familiar story that’s handled with delicacy in places, yet lacks some much-needed intensity, especially with two highly attractive, low-energy protagonists who seem to have been teleported in from a mumblecore film. A mid-August local release should yield small returns, while fests (including a Toronto premiere) and niche art house distributors may want to check out this minor addition to the genre.
First seen working at a bakery in the provincial city of Bayeux, the discreet and gorgeous Alice (Ana Girardot) crosses path with Agnes (Aurelia Petit), a rich designer who owns a huge country house nearby, and who offers to help the young girl apply to a Paris-based fashion school. Soon after, Alice meets Agnes’ son, Antoine (Bastien Bouillon), who’s tall, handsome, but also a bit of a wet noodle, whining about his overprotective mommy while pontificating about art and photography.
Nonetheless, when Alice is accepted at the school, where she decides to specialize in embroidery, she quickly dumps her hometown BF (Baptiste Lecaplain) in favor of the well-to-do Antoine, who introduces her to the finer things in life — to “the beautiful world” of the film’s title. But the closer she gets to her Parisian Pygmalion, moving into his Left Bank apartment and sharing in the wealth, the farther Alice strays from her humble roots, losing something of herself in the process.
Co-written by Lopes-Curval (whose debut feature, Bord de Mer, won Cannes’ Camera d’Or prize in 2002) and Sophie Hiet, the script carefully weaves Alice’s Bildungsroman into her burgeoning love affair with Antoine, who turns out to be more sensitive than initially portrayed, if still a major egotist. But as the story shifts to focus on the couple’s growing pains, it also loses steam, leaving us with two people whose failure to communicate hardly makes for good drama, even if the filmmakers have some interesting things to say about the way class differences can impact relationships. (For a less subtle but much more engrossing version of this story, see Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is the Warmest Color.)
After playing smaller parts in the teen drama Lights Out and the Claude Francois biopic My Way, Girardot (the daughter of actor Hippolyte Girardot) takes on her first lead role here, and although she physically encapsulates Alice’s naive provincial beauty, her character is simply not developed enough to drive the narrative. This is one of those movies where people say nothing and we’re supposed to take that for something, while a little more dialogue would have gone a long way toward bringing us to Alice’s side, rather than leaving the viewer forever at a safe distance.
As a rich pretty boy bored by everything but his own artistic endeavors, Bouillon (2 Autumns, 3 Winters) plays the part well, if often in a state of semi-narcolepsy. Veterans Aurelia Petit (The Science of Sleep) and Sergi Lopez (Pan’s Labyrinth) are good as Antoine’s fashionista parents, with the latter's character turning out to be a major help when our heroine most needs it.
Tech credits are highlighted by ace DP Celine Bozon’s colorful, naturally lit cinematography and Charlotte Lebourgeois’ well-chosen costumes, including the dresses that Alice makes out of fabric scrounged up from her modest hometown.
Production companies: Pyramide Productions
Cast: Ana Girardot, Bastien Bouillon, Baptiste Lecaplain, Aurelia Petit, Sergi Lopez
Director: Julie Lopes-Curval
Screenwriters: Julie Lopes-Curval, Sophie Hiet
Producers: Fabienne Vonier, Francis Boespflug, Stephane Parthenay
Director of photography: Celine Bozon
Production designer: Philippe van Herwijnen
Costume designer: Charlotte Lebourgeois
Editor: Muriel Breton
Composer: Sebastien Schuller
Sales agent: Pyramide
No rating, 95 minutes