‘Caprice’: Film Review

Caprice Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Pyramide Distribution

Caprice Still - H 2015

French funnyman-auteur Emmanuel Mouret offers up an amusing if rather slight adultery dramedy

Anais Demoustier (“Bird People”) and Virginie Efira (“It Boy”) star in Mouret’s latest romp

French writer, director and actor Emmanuel Mouret began his career with a series of shorts and features filled with clever physical gags in the vein of Jacques Tati and Buster Keaton. But in recent years he’s clearly moved into Woody Allen territory, with a handful of chatty romantic dramedies in which the filmmaker himself is often caught between several beautiful women and his own inability to cope.

His latest movie, Caprice, is no exception, offering up an enjoyable if not entirely memorable ménage à trois between a mild-mannered schoolteacher, a platinum blond actress, and the sprightly young upstart who risks pulling them apart. Featuring charming turns from Mouret and co-stars Virginie Efira and Anais Demoustier, this is the kind of lightweight Gallic fare that could play well in urban art houses, catering to those viewers who like their adultery stories to come with a smile.

Bumbling fifth grade instructor Clement (Mouret) has a hard time putting a full sentence together, but that doesn’t stop him from winning over Alicia (Efira), a film and theater star whose nephew he’s been hired to tutor in math. The matinee idol and sheepish bookworm quickly hit it off, and all seems to be hunky-dory for the lovebirds until aspiring young actress, Caprice (Demoustier), pops into the picture.

After a drunken night out with best bud, Thomas (Laurent Stocker), Clement winds up sleeping with Caprice, who he met during one of Alicia’s shows. The extra-conjugal tryst throws his love life into a rut, especially when Caprice comes back for more. Meanwhile, Thomas and Alicia seem to be hitting it off in ways that suggest more than a casual friendship, opening up the potentiality of a four-way romance.

Treading into familiar territory, especially for anyone who’s watched at least one French dramedy over the last fifty years, Mouret doesn’t bring much originality to the table, though the film’s titular character has more panache than your typical movie mistress. This is in part due to Demoustier’s turn, with the budding talent – starring in Cannes competition film Marguerite et Julien – playing a sincere youngster reminiscent of Mariel Hemingway in Manhattan, although with some welcome Gallic spontaneity.

Like Allen in his own work, you sort of have to accept that Mouret could be such a heartthrob for so many gorgeous ladies, though his character here is definitely less amusing than the various snarky types incarnated by the Woodster. In previous films like Shall We Kiss? and Please, Please Me!, the writer-director managed to win over both women and viewers with his slapstick physical comedy, which is unfortunately limited here to a few moments – including a witty scene involving a coffee cup.

But other gags featuring crutches and a leg cast – which in the third act wind up bringing Clement and Caprice back together, at least for a stretch – are far from funny, attempting to add some levity to what’s otherwise a pretty glum scenario. “Lying is not a bad thing,” is how Caprice seems to approach a world where everyone lives under false pretenses, holding back their true feelings until it’s too late. This is why the film’s ending feels like such a cop-out, as if Mouret were initially trying to make a drama like his last feature, Another Life, but then decided that he really preferred comedy after all.

Tech credits are light and airy, with regular DP Laurent Desmet capturing a completely whitewashed city – the Parisian equivalent of Allen’s Upper East Side.

Production companies: Moby Dick Films, Arte France Cinema
Cast: Virginie Efira, Anais Demoustier, Emmanuel Mouret, Laurent Stocker
Director, screenwriter: Emmanuel Mouret
Producer: Frederic Neidermayer
Director of photography: Laurent Desmet
Production designer: David Faivre
Costume designer: Charlotte Vaysse
Editor: Martial Salomon
Composer: Giovanni Mirabassi
International sales: Kinology

No rating, 98 minutes