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Although she hasn’t lined up as many masterpieces as Isabelle Huppert, nor does she have the cinema populaire appeal of Sophie Marceau, 51-year-old actress Karin Viard has carved an impressive niche for herself in French films of the past decade or so.
In movies like My Piece of the Pie, 21 Nights With Pattie, On Air and Lulu femme nue, she’s used her impeccable comic timing and deadpan delivery to portray women going through tricky midlife crises, yet managing to come out on top through a mix of serendipitous encounters, sexual awakenings or good old Gallic sang-froid.
Her latest starring role is in Jealous (Jalouse), a new film by Delicacy writers-directors David and Stephane Foenkinos that seems entirely attuned to Viard’s specific talents. Something like Mommie Dearest transformed into a light Parisian dramedy, the story follows the life of a recently divorced mother named Nathalie (Viard) who, as the title bluntly states, suffers from the cardinal sin of envy.
Not only is Nathalie jealous of her ex-husband (Thibault de Montalembert), her best friend (Anne Dorval) and a new teacher (Anais Demoustier) at the preparatory school where she’s reigned for decades in the French department, but she’s absolutely resentful of her beautiful and nearly perfect 18-year-old daughter, Mathilde (newcomer Dara Tombroff), who’s vying to become a professional ballerina.
We first meet Nathalie as she drunkenly, and rather begrudgingly, celebrates Mathilde’s birthday, only to wake up with a nasty hangover the next day. From then on things take a dip for the worse as jealousy — and, per her physician, the early symptoms of menopause — drive Nathalie to sabotage the lives of those around her.
She ruins her ex’s Club Med trip with his new girlfriend (Marie-Julie Baup), tries to break up her best buddy’s happy marriage, does everything in her power to subvert her teaching rival’s new agenda and then inadvertently (or at least not all that consciously) poisons Mathilde just before her big audition for the Paris Opera Ballet. Even worse, if possible, she blows her own chances of finally restarting her long-dormant love life by kicking a perfectly viable and extremely suave suitor (Bruno Todeschini) out of the house for allegedly staring at Mathilde’s rear-end.
The directors get much mileage out of Nathalie’s toxic behavior, with Viard drawing laughs from what’s actually an extremely sad, borderline disturbing tale of one fiftysomething woman’s downward spiral into alcoholism, resentment and general misery. As this is a comedy, however, things will eventually brighten up in the third act, with Nathalie finding much-needed respite at the local municipal swimming pool, where she befriends a woman even older than herself — and one whose outlook on life is significantly less grim. It’s a rather simplistic shortcut to what feels like a forced happy ending, although thankfully the film doesn’t try to tie up every single loose end.
Compared to the Foenkinos Bros.’ debut feature, Delicacy, which was really a tad too cute for its own good, Jealousy goes more for the jugular in terms of the jokes. Viard is truly at her best when she’s doing some very bad things — whether it’s smoking a fat joint before a necessary trip to the therapist, driving away her daughter’s kind-hearted boyfriend (Corentin Fila) or wreaking havoc in the teachers’ lounge at school — yet she also turns Nathalie into a rather sympathetic character. Still, in terms of pure crassness, the scene where she and arch educational enemy Melanie finally have a tete-a-tete is definitely a highlight, revealing how low two teachers can go when left alone in a classroom.
Viard can draw a decent crowd in France, and this movie has already hit close to 500,000 admissions after 10 days in theaters. Francophone slots are assured, while the film’s very Parisian setting and subject matter could help land it in overseas art houses looking for upscale comedies with a sizeable serving of bad behavior.
Production companies: Mandarin Production, StudioCanal, France 2 Cinema
Cast: Karin Viard, Dara Tombroff, Anne Dorval, Thibault de Montalembert, Bruno Todeschini, Anais Demoustier
Directors-screenwriters: David Foenkinos, Stephane Foenkinos
Producers: Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer
Director of photography: Guillaume Deffontaines
Production designer: Marie Cheminal
Costume designer: Emmanuelle Youchnovski
Editor: Virginie Bruant
Composers: Paul-Marie Barbier, Julien Grunberg
Casting director: David Bertrand
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