'Winds of Change' ('Des lendemains qui chantent'): Film Review

Thibault & Anouchka/Karé Production/Delante Films
The political and the personal are combined in this well-observed but underwhelming French dramedy

Pio Marmai and Laetitia Casta co-star in writer-director Nicolas Castro's first feature

When Socialist candidate Francois Mitterand was elected president in 1981, French leftists rapturously celebrated their first major victory in many a moon. But as it became clear that the crafty statesman was not always on their side, with an administration increasingly mired by scandal (including Gaul's own version of Watergate), plenty of supporters grew disillusioned with their party and lost faith in left-wing ideals.

The Mitterand years and their long-term effect on a handful of characters are honestly but somewhat blandly depicted in Winds of Change (Des lendemains qui chantent), a well-intentioned chronicle marked by solid performances and a strong heart, but one that never really pops off the screen. Similar in some ways to 2010's The Names of Love (which was produced by the same company), this debut feature from documentarian Nicolas Castro is also too Franco-specific to find much traction outside its home turf, where it performed modestly for a late-August release.

It's election night on March 10, 1981, and brothers Leon (Pio Marmai) and Olivier (Gaspard Proust), their best bud Sylvain (Ramzy), and fellow campaigner Noemie (Laetitia Casta) are all at the victory party in their working class town of Saint-Etienne. While Olivier is about to leave for Paris, where he's landed a job in political marketing, and Sylvain is stuck at his parents' local porn theatre, Leon only has eyes for Noemie, with whom he begins a quick but torrid affair that ends with the latter heading off to France's prestigious Ecole nationale de l'administration.

Working as an investigative journalist with ironclad Socialist values, Leon soon makes his way to Paris as well, where he finds that the 1980's are not necessarily filled with the communal spirit he envisioned. Not only are lefty-leaning papers like Liberation and Le Nouvel Observateur shifting their content to more business-friendly models, but Leon's bro Olivier is now making big bucks as one of the Mitterand campaign's premier strategists. He's also shagging Noemie, who's now one of the president's top aides, though she still seems to hang on to her old beliefs.

Following the quartet from that first election up through the Socialist party's devastating loss to the far right in 2002, writer-director Castro reveals how these rather likeable characters find themselves increasingly compromised by social and economic realities: Leon turns into a trifling TV interviewer to make a living; Olivier sells his soul to advertising; Sylvain makes and loses a fortune peddling smut; and Noemie realizes that her favorite president is as corrupt as the rest of them.

The events are smartly observed if easy to telegraph in a dramatic sense, with plenty of period details — including archival footage of political heavyweights Jacques Chirac and Bernard Tapie — that will surely please French viewers, though such cameos will be lost on most international audiences. But the real problem is that Wings of Change never has the sweeping, epic feel of films like Marco Tullio Giordano's The Best of Youth, nor does it have the raunchy humor of The Names of Love. It sits somewhere in the middle, and like the nickname given to France's underwhelming current president, Francois Hollande, it's all a tad too "normal."

Performances are decent across the board, with stand-up comics Proust and Ramzy offering up more nuanced turns than they've given in the past. A supporting role by Alain Resnais regular Andre Dussollier, as the brothers' factory-employed dad, provides some occasions for an emotional catharsis but doesn't fully seal the deal.

Tech credits are good, with DP Pierre Aim capturing the epoch in brown-gray tones, while production designer Samantha Gordowski does a fine job with all the backgrounds, even if the France depicted hardly seems to have changed much over the last thirty-odd years.

Production companies: Kare Productions, Delante Films, TF1 Droits Audiovisuels, UGC Images, France 2 Cinema, Rhone-Alpes Cinema
Cast: Pio Marmai, Laetitia Casta, Ramzy, Gaspard Proust, Andre Dussollier
Director, screenwriter: Nicolas Castro
Producers: Fabrice Goldstein, Antoine Rein, Caroline Adrian
Director of photography: Pierre Aim
Production designer: Samantha Gordowski
Costume designer: Melanie Gautier
Editors: Antoine Vareille, Sylvie Landra
Composer: Jeanne Cherhal
Sales agent: TF1 International

No rating, 94 minutes