Not My Type (Pas son genre): Film Review

Agat Films & Cie
As French as a slice of camembert, and quite often as cheesy, this Gallic dramedy is partially salvaged by its strong lead performances.

Emilie Dequenne (“Rosetta,” “Our Children”) stars in writer-director Lucas Belvaux’s adaptation of a novel by French writer Philippe Vilain.

A dashing philosopher is sent off to teach in a quiet northern town, where he soon falls for a bubbly and rather vulgar local hairdresser. But will the couple’s carnal affection manage to overcome their irreconcilable differences?

If that sounds like the plot of the most cliched French movie ever made, then writer-director Lucas Belvaux’s Not My Type (Pas son genre) may just about deserve that prize. Otherwise, this intimate two-hander is somewhat redeemed by an endearing turn from Belgian-born star Emilie Dequenne (Rosetta, Our Children), who brings something extra to a film that seems to be deliberately playing with Gallic rom-com stereotypes, yet has a hard time going beyond them.

Adapted from a novel by Philippe Vilain, this ninth feature by actor-turned-director Belvaux marks a change of pace for the filmmaker, who’s otherwise known for his darkly tense thrillers, particularly the kidnapping drama, Rapt, and the ambitious three-part policier, The Trilogy. Yet while he manages to coax strong performances out of both Dequenne and Comedie Francaise thespian Loic Corbery (Best in Bed), there’s only so far he can take material that feels dead in the water from the first act, and for which an overstretched running time never feels justified.

Clement (Corbery) is a brooding Parisian intellectual who, when he’s not breaking the hearts of woman as beautiful and sophisticated as he is, likes to drink cafes on the terrace of Les Deux Magots or else attend chic art openings in St. Germain-des-Pres. But Clement’s cushy metrosexual lifestyle is about to change when he’s obliged to take a teaching post in Arras, a working-class city that seems as far down the ladder from Paris as one of the last circles of hell.

Yet just when he arrives in town, he runs into Jennifer (Dequenne), a bleached-blond coiffeuse whose idea of a good time is singing karaoke with her gal friends at the local Eurotrash disco, and whose ultimate idol -- as she explains in a particularly long and cringe-worthy sequence -- is Jennifer Aniston. (Whether that’s because the two share the same first name, or because Aniston is supposed to represent the height of vulgarity in a Frenchman’s eyes, is never made clear.)

Soon enough, Clement has not only managed to seduce his local conquest, but he begins introducing her to major works of literature, giving her a copy of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot (get it?) and reading aloud each night from Emile Zola, Marcel Proust and Charles Baudelaire. When he’s not doing that, he’s showing her his best A-game between the sheets. (The movie could also be called The Taming of the Screw).

As corny as that may sound, Belvaux portrays the unlikely romance with hardly any irony at all, mining a few laughs out of the various Paris vs. Province gags, and out of some of Jennifer’s more crass moments, but otherwise playing it all with a straight face. Indeed, that seems to be the point, especially after Not My Type moves into a darker and more serious second half that reveals how little the two lovebirds have in common after all, particularly with regards to the way they perceive relationships.

Yet despite both Dequenne’s and Corbery’s commitment to their roles, we remain frustratingly on the surface of characters who, in the end, never manage to escape the cliches they appeared to be from the get-go. And even if that may have been the underlying theme of Vilain’s original novel -- in a sort of long-winded French equivalent of “toldja!” – it doesn’t make for compelling drama, especially at nearly 2-hours and with several scenes that seem to run on for no real reason.

Working once again with cinematographer Pierric Gantelmi d’Ille (who shot Belvaux’s take on the Kitty Genovese story, 38 Witnesses), the director crafts a series of smooth, widescreen images that seem atypical for this type of story, allowing the performances to play out in long takes that editor Ludo Troch (The Concert) tries his best not to interrupt.

No where is this more apparent than in the two scenes where Jennifer, along with her fellow hairdressers, gets decked out in a sparkly dress and lends her voice to live covers of The Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” In any other movie, such moments would likely cause cackles, but Dequenne’s full-bodied renditions are just about heartbreaking, in a film that doesn’t quite know where its heart really lies.

Production companies: AGAT Films & Cie, Artemis Productions, France 3 Cinema, RTBF (Television Belge), Beglacom

Cast: Emilie Dequenne, Loic Corbery, Sandra Nkake, Charlotte Talpaert, Anne Coesens

Director: Lucas Belvaux

Screenwriter: Lucas Belvaux, based on the novel by Philippe Vilain

Producers: Patrick Sobelman, Patrick Quinet

Director of photography: Pierric Gantelmi d’Ille

Production designer: Frederique Belvaux

Costume designer: Nathalie Raoul

Editor: Ludo Troch

Music: Frederic Vercheval

Sales agent: Films Distribution

No rating, 111 minutes