Miss and the Doctors (Tirez la langue, mademoiselle): Toronto Review

Miss and The Doctors TIFF Still - H 2013

Miss and The Doctors TIFF Still - H 2013

A sharply observed love triangle backed by beautiful lensing and compelling performances.

Louise Bourgoin ("The Girl From Monaco") and filmmaker Cedric Kahn ("Red Lights") topline writer-director Axelle Ropert's intimate sophomore drama.

PARIS -- Following her well-received 2008 Directors’ Fortnight entry The Wolberg Family, writer-director Axelle Ropert continues to explore the sticky emotional side of family bonds and romantic yearnings in her accomplished sophomore effort, Miss and the Doctors (Tirez la langue, mademoiselle). A smart and serious-minded love story which, with its specific urban setting, three-way courtship and underlying sense of claustrophobia, tends to recall James Gray’s Two Lovers, this September French release has surprisingly skipped the fall festival circuit, yet has enough low-key art house appeal to please upscale market audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. (Provided, perhaps, that it finds a more convincing English-language title.)

Backed by a terrific cast including Louise Bourgoin (The Girl from Monaco), filmmaker-cum-actor Cedric Kahn (Red Lights, Alyah) and Comedie-Francaise stalwart Laurent Stocker, and captured in gorgeously gloomy visuals by DP Celine Bozon, Miss is reminiscent of both the Gray movie and the sort of earnestly made, cleverly scripted adult dramas of Francois Truffaut’s late period. It’s at once astutely observed and deeply, though subtly, passionate, and despite a final act that somewhat strains for credibility, the direction and performances are spot-on throughout.

Set among the working-class high-rises and Chinese restaurants of Paris’ 13th arrondissement, the film focuses on a pair of pediatrician brothers -- the darkly authoritative Boris (Kahn) and the warm but troubled Dimitri (Stocker) -- and their growing infatuation with bewitching local barmaid Judith (Bourgoin), whose daughter (Paula Denis) is stricken with diabetes.

Using the opening reels to sketch out the bros’ personal and professional camaraderie, as well as their innate differences -- including Dimitri’s bouts with alcoholism -- the story slowly but surely transforms into a love triangle as both siblings fall for Judith, confessing their feelings for her at separate moments, and for what seem like opposing reasons. Indeed, while in Boris’ case, Judith and her daughter represent a family unit he can both guide and nurture, for Dimitri they’re more like a life preserver to cling to in a teetotalling existence devoid of real pleasure.

If such a set-up has the makings of a Lifetime network movie, Ropert smartly grounds the drama in the realities of family and community, trailing the brothers as they deal with various patients, and inserting small bits of comedy wherever she can. A sequence involving an epileptic teenager (Alexandre Wu) is both funny and believable in this regard, as is a pure rom-com moment in which the sparring doctors use their mutual best friend (director Serge Bozon, for whom Ropert works as a regular screenwriter) to serve as an unwilling messenger.

Things turn a tad too much towards melodrama when Judith’s long lost companion (Jean-Pierre Petit) suddenly turns up late in the game, and what was initially a witty and realistic narrative loses some of its plausibility. Still, the finely-tuned performances, coupled with Ropert’s tight staging and Bozon’s terrific lensing, manage to instill everything with an elegant yet despondent air, and Miss ultimately plays less like a three-way romance than like a bluesy swan song for brotherly love.

A melodious score from Benjamin Esdraffo (La France) reveals shades of New Wave composers Michel Legrand and Georges Delerue, adding a fantasy-like texture to the neighborhood’s drab concrete towers and plazas. The original (and much better) French title comes from the doctor’s famous order: “stick out your tongue.”

Production companies: Les Films Pelleas, Groupe Heriodiade

Cast: Louise Bourgoin, Cedric Kahn, Laurent Stocker, Paula Denis, Serge Bozon

Director, screenwriter: Axelle Ropert

Producers: David Thion, Philippe Martin

Director of photography: Celine Bozon

Production designer: Sophie Reynaud-Malouf

Costume designer: Delphine Capossela

Music: Benjamin Esdraffo

Editor: Francois Quiquere

Sales Agent: Pyramide International

No rating, 102 minutes