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A prematurely balding hairdresser starts stalking the mysterious fortysomething owner of a provincial corner shop in Rosalie Blum, a quirky, cockles-warming adaptation of the eponymous graphic-novel trilogy by French artist Camille Jourdy. Debuting writer-director Julien Rappeneau — son of Jean-Pierre, most famous for having directed the Depardieu vehicle Cyrano de Bergerac — follows Jourdy’s lead and also plays around with narrative structure and audience expectations to keep an otherwise rather familiar story of lonely hearts and wacky-cutesy humor fresh and engaging. Nuanced performances from a strong cast including Noemie Lvovsky (Camille Rewinds) and French-Iranian thespian Kyan Khojandi (Lou!) further help sustain interest.
Though the film debuted with a rather modest 143,000 admissions in France in its first week, numbers are down just over 25% in its second week, suggesting this Rosalie will have gorgeously long legs. It’s already been scooped up for several international territories, including Australia, and should do well with the middlebrow segment overseas who like their French films light and life-affirming but not stupid.
The film’s first of three chapters — which mirror the three tomes of the graphic novel — centers on Vincent (Khojandi), a shy hairdresser in a provincial French town whose overbearing mother (mono-monikered veteran actress Anemone) lives one floor up in the same building. Needy and not the type to ever actually listen, his mom asks him for lemons on a Sunday so he’s forced to bike into a part of town he doesn’t normally frequent to find a corner shop that’s open. This is where Vincent first spies the titular heroine (Lvovsky) and perhaps because he has a girlfriend in Paris who keeps cancelling her visits back home to see him, he becomes obsessed with Blum, to the point where he obsessively (if secretively) starts following her around.
The early going establishes the picturesque small-town decor and the tone of the material, which combines humor and eccentric touches with surges of genuine emotion (the fact Belle and Sebastien’s “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying” is on the soundtrack pretty much says it all). But narratively, nothing much seems to be out of the ordinary until part two starts, which focuses on the twentysomething Aude (Alice Isaaz), who was just a bystander in one scene in part one. Her precise connection to the story of Vincent and Rosalie is a joy to discover for those unfamiliar with the novels, while Rappeneau and Isaaz also manage to flesh out the undecided Aude’s own character, even though her girlfriends (Camille Rutherford, Sara Giraudeau) and middle-aged roommate (Philippe Rebbot) never quite spring loose from their overly familiar quirky-best-friends/oddball-roommate molds.
The third and last chapter, in which Rosalie finally takes center stage, ties up all of the loose ends when Blum happens to make an appointment to get her hair done in Vincent’s salon. Rappeneau, who also wrote the adaptation, allows the film’s more emotional undercurrents to surface more clearly here as it emerges that the story’s really about the characters’ daily battle against loneliness and their very human need for a connection. Refreshingly, Rappeneau and the always pitch-perfect Lvovsky never make Rosalie into a saint or manic pixie fortysomething. Quite the contrary, actually, as her backstory turns out to be rather dark, the better to tie in with the important (if not exactly original) message that everybody not only craves a connection but also deserves a second chance.
Rappeneau has assembled a top-drawer technical crew that includes costume designer Isabelle Pannetier (Intouchables), who telegraphs a lot of information about each character in her designs; editor Stan Collet (Zulu), whose nimble cuts allow new angles and insights on the same story to emerge organically throughout; and the director’s brother, Martin Rappeneau (The Tuche Family), who composed the glowingly temperamental score.
Production companies: The Film, CG Cinema, France 2 Cinema, SND
Cast: Noemie Lvovsky, Kyan Khojandi, Alice Isaaz, Anemone, Camille Rutherford, Sara Giraudeau, Philippe Rebbot, Nicolas Bridet
Director: Julien Rappeneau
Screenplay: Julien Rappeaneau, based on the graphic novel by Camille Jourdy
Producers: Michael Gentile, Charles Gillibert
Director of photography: Pierre Cottereau
Production designer: Marie Cheminal
Costume designer: Isabelle Pannetier
Editor: Stan Collet
Music: Martin Rappeaneau
Casting: Gigi Akoka
Not rated, 97 minutes
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