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In Bed With Victoria may be the international title of this quirky second feature from French director Justine Triet (Age of Panic), but her film is really about the opposite: How a flustered single mom and criminal lawyer — delectably played by Belgian actress Virginie Efira (It Boy) — is going through a midlife crisis where she can’t get anyone in bed with her at all (or, if she does get someone in bed, can’t really seal the deal).
Low sexual libido is just one of many issues — along with an ex-husband’s inflammatory blog, an ex-drug dealer/potential love interest, and what could be the strangest assault trial in legal history — plaguing the titular heroine of this lively if somewhat underwhelming Gallic dramedy, which opened up this year’s Critics’ Week sidebar in Cannes. With Efira appearing in several films of the moment, including the high-concept Jean Dujardin comedy Up for Love and Paul Verhoeven’s competition title Elle, Victoria could find a modest audience in various Francophone territories, with additional pickups by distributors hustling for content on the Croisette.
Triet made a name for herself with a few Mumblecore-esque shorts (including the excellent Villaine fille, mauvais garcon, which won a prize in Berlin), followed by a debut feature that was partly shot on the fly during the 2012 French presidential elections. She has a knack for putting restless and unmanageable women into even more restless and unmanageable situations, in films that can appear to be highly improvised with their freewheeling performances and explosive screaming matches.
In Victoria, Triet tempers her style a bit while upgrading her production values (especially the vivid and colorful cinematography of Simon Beaufils), resulting in a movie that can feel both original and somewhat conventional — a classic working girl rom-com with just enough kookiness to set itself apart from the pack.
First seen in one of several unfruitful therapy sessions, the powerhouse blond attorney, Victoria (Efira), soon finds herself at a friend’s wedding where the plot officially kicks in: During the party, she runs into Sam (Vincent Lacoste), a former dealer she once defended in court, and who’s now looking to be her legal intern and/or man slave. She also crosses paths with Vincent (Melvil Poupaud), a swarthy guyfriend who’s engaged in a stormy relationship with Eve (Alice Daquet) — a woman he winds up stabbing, or not, in the middle of the nuptial celebrations.
Vincent begs Victoria to defend him at trial, in a case that’s complicated by the fact that the only eyewitness to the attack is the couple’s dalmatian. (There’s also a chimpanzee at the wedding that can take its own selfies, as if things weren’t already wacky enough.) The plot is further complicated by Victoria’s ex, David (Laurent Poitrenaux), who’s decided to write a blog that hardly fictionalizes his former girlfriend’s past exploits, including sleeping with a number of judges (this was back when she still had sex).
Triet juggles all of these elements — including the bizarre, increasingly affectionate relationship between Victoria and Sam, who’s moved in and does the housekeeping — with a certain ease throughout the first half of the movie, anchoring everything in a vibrant, well-tuned performance by Efira that shows how she’s become one of the best French-language comic actors in recent years. (A former TV weather girl, Efira broke out onto the scene opposite Pierre Niney in the 2013 cougar comedy It Boy).
But despite tons of energy and even more outlandishness, leading up to an extended courtroom finale where monkeys, dogs and deep sexual longing are all paraded out in public, there’s a lot about Victoria that plays like weirdness for weirdness’s sake, while the conclusion follows a path taken by many rom-coms before.
More memorable are individual moments of pure absurdity — such as a botched date scene where Victoria can’t shut up as yet another man unsuccessfully tries to bed her — or else a certain limberness among the cast (including the always watchable Poupaud) that stands apart from the theatrics of your typical Gallic comedy.
In that sense, Triet’s movie lies somewhere between more femme-centric Woody Allen films like Alice or Another Woman and the work of French farce maven Louis de Funes. It’s both cerebral, rambling and often over-the-top, offering a portrait of a woman forever on the verge of either a breakdown or an orgasm, while using unfamiliar means to take us to a most familiar place.
Production companies: Ecce Films, France 2 Cinema
Cast: Virginie Efira, Vincent Lacoste, Melvil Poupaud, Laurent Poitrenaux
Director, screenwriter: Justine Triet
Producer: Emmanuel Chaumet
Director of photography: Simon Beaufils
Production designer: Olivier Meidinger
Costume designer: Charlotte Vaysse
Editor: Laurent Senechal
Casting directors: Cynthia Arra, Youna De Peretti
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Critics’ Week)
Sales agent: Indie Sales
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