Pauline détective: Film Review

Pauline Detective Still - H 2012

Pauline Detective Still - H 2012

A mildly suspenseful séjour that's both droll and trifling.

Sandrine Kiberlain stars in Marc Fitoussi's lighthearted Riviera-set mystery.

A lightweight coastal caper with a few breezy laughs and a fun but rather throwaway plotline, Pauline détective is an amusing if not altogether conclusive Franco-Italian whodunit from director Marc Fitoussi (Copacabana).

Starring Sandrine Kiberlain (Mademoiselle Chambon) as a lovesick magazine editor with an addiction to sleuthing and an aversion to solving her own problems, the film has enough small charms to travel abroad to Francophone fests and territories, but is also a tad too trite to see major arthouse distribution. Mid-sized local release should yield decent numbers, although Pauline may have played better at the beach as a pure summertime distraction.

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The titular, 40-something heroine (Kiberlain) is the workaholic editor-in-chief of real crime rag Le Nouveau Détective (a sort of National Enquirer dedicated to grisly murders and kidnappings), and everything seems fine and dandy in her micromanaged life until she’s suddenly dumped by an unseen boyfriend, plunging her into a severe depression.

Luckily, Pauline’s TV actress sister (Audrey Lamy, My Piece of the Pie) soon whisks her away to a quiet resort near Genoa, hoping that some sunshine, R&R, and a mildly hunky lifeguard (Claudio Santamaria, Romanzo criminale) will cure her broken heart. Instead, Pauline stumbles onto her very own murder mystery when an eccentric old woman (Michèle Moretti) disappears from the hotel, leading to a slew of red herrings and MacGuffins involving corruption, adultery and a local serial killer.

Taking cues from Ernst Lubitsch, Blake Edwards and Agatha Christie (especially the giddy film adaptations of Pascal Thomas), Fitoussi concocts a bare-bones holiday suspense story that’s just interesting enough to keep one guessing, although the focus is less on the intrigue than on Pauline’s gradual recovery. But even that narrative is never really given a thorough working over, and unlike the filmmaker’s socially minded Isabelle Huppert-starrer Copacabana, Pauline détective remains much more of a fun-filled trifle—as colorful and flimsy as its heroine’s extensive collection of beachwear.

Though she’s no stranger to the genre, it’s nice to see Kiberlain taking on a broader comic role here, and she has a way of underplaying the gags that coheres well with Fitoussi’s deadpan direction. Santamaria adds a dose of Italian whimsy to the proceedings, although he veers towards ridiculous in certain sequences, such as one that has him dancing the tarantella to The Style Council’s “Shout to the Top.”

Ace cinematographer Céline Bozon (The Regrets) gives the film a vibrant color palette that never feels overdone, grounding the action in a certain carefree reality.

Production companies: Haut et Court, Studio 37, France 3 Cinéma, Versus production

Cast: Sandrine Kiberlain, Audrey Lamy, Claudio Santamaria, Antoine Chappey, Anne Benoit

Director, screenwriter: Marc Fitoussi

Producers: Carole Scotta, Caroline Benjo, Simon Arnal, Barbara Letellier

Director of photography: Céline Bozon

Production designer: Samuel Deshors

Music: Tim Gane, Sean O’Hagan

Costume designer: Marité Coutard

Editor: Martine Giordano

Sales Agent: Studio 37

No rating, 101 minutes