PARIS — A modern-day fairy tale wrapped in a cloak of sly one-liners and deadpan existentialism, Under the Rainbow (Au bout du conte) represents a partial return to form for actors, filmmakers and former real-life couple Agnes Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri. Too unwieldy to match the success of their art-house hit The Taste of Others, but clever enough to carry it beyond French borders, this double-edged love triangle should see decent homeland returns for its March 6 release, although France’s favorite kvetching twosome will be most effective on cable and VOD.
Ever since Others broke out to international acclaim in 2000, sweeping the Cesar awards and scoring an Oscar nomination, the Jaoui-Bacri combo punch has proved to be French cinema’s closest thing to the (better) work of Woody Allen, offering up smart, adult-targeted dramedies with running commentaries on love, life and contemporary Gallic mores.
While their last collaboration, Let it Rain (2008), was mired by an overwrought narrative and lots of pointless gags, they seem to have found more of a proper footing in this rueful account of growing up and growing old, even if the film’s cumbersome 110-minute running time allows for a tad too many digressions, especially in a protracted second act.
Written by Bacri and Jaoui, and directed by the latter, Rainbow opens with a dream sequence that sets the stage for its fantasy-tinged storyline about an innocent 20-something, Laura (Agathe Bonitzer), falling in love with an aspiring composer, Sandro (Arthur Dupont), only to have that love thwarted by music impresario, Maxime (Benjamin Biolay) — a big, bad womanizer with a taste for young flesh.
While the youngsters’ relationship runs amok, Laura’s aunt, Marianne (Jaoui) and Arthur’s father, Pierre (Bacri), are living their own mid-life crises, with the former dealing with her daughter, niece and their two difficult daddies, and the latter coping with a prophecy that has forecasted his own death in the not-too-distant future. When the pair eventually hooks up and Pierre offers Marianne free driving lessons, they bond in an unusual sort of way that suggests a future affair, though the filmmakers have different plans in mind for their fictional counterparts.
Cutting between the two plotlines, the movie functions better when dealing with its neurotic middle-aged couple — the various driving sequences are by far the film’s funniest — than with its rather generic juvenile romance, even if both stories are ultimately about the same thing: how to weigh expectations against the hard facts of daily life, foiled dreams and one’s eventual and inevitable demise.
Bacri is especially potent here as the sardonic, ever-groaning Pierre, and the way he handles his character’s closeted phobia shows to what extent he remains one of Gaul’s strongest comic talents, underplaying scenes that most actors would blow out of proportion. Rising stars Bonitzer (The Nun) and Dupont (Haute Cuisine) are also compelling as bright-eyed lovebirds whose dreams of unfettered happiness are upended by carnal desire and the realities of adulthood.
Tech credits are solid if rather straightforward, with Fernando Fiszbein’s score playfully evoking the fantasy themes evinced by both Marianne’s job (she’s directing a grade school performance of a medieval romance) and the original-language title, which is a pun that translates to “At the End of the Tale.”
Production companies: Les Films A4, France 2 Cinema, Memento Films Production, La Cinefacture, Herodiade
Cast: Agathe Bonitzer, Arthur Dupont, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Agnes Jaoui, Benjamin Biolay
Director: Agnes Jaoui
Screenwriters: Agnes Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri
Producers: Jean-Philippe Andraca, Christian Berand
Director of photography: Lubomir Bakchev
Production designer: Francois Emmanuelli
Costume designer: Nathalie Raoul
Music: Fernando Fiszbein
Editor: Fabrice Rouaud
Sales: Memento Films International
No rating, 112 minutes