Sunday, September 30, 2012

Film Review: Guillaume Canet's Little White Lies

Originally released in France in October of 2010 - to boffo box office by the way - this quite wonderful little film (a film that some have tossed off as merely a French Big Chill - a line that though somewhat accurate nevertheless sells it very very short) is a film that by all intents and purposes should have gotten a big release here in the states a year ago.  Now of course when I say "big" I mean foreign film big, which I suppose is small by most standards, but you get the picture - the film should have played big here in the US, if not in 2011, when I had the good fortune to catch it on a French DVD release, then at least in early 2012 when one of its cast members, a certain Monsieur Jean Dujardin, was running about Tinsel Town, getting every award possible, from the Golden Globe to the Academy Award to the Nickelodeon Kid's Choice Award.  Okay, the latter one may be a lie, but suffice it to say that timing the US release with such an obvious goldmine time as the post Oscar doldrums, when nothing else of any real matter is ever released and the first Frenchman to take home the Oscar (granted, in a rather small role here) is still fresh in the minds of moviegoers, would have been the way to go.

This of course never happened.  Perhaps due to rights issues, perhaps due to just poor planning, I do not know. Granted, its running time of 154 minutes could be a turn-off for American audiences (though that is still shorter than more than half of the Harry Potter films, and they did not do so poorly) but in every other aspect it just spells big box office.  Of course again, I mean "big" as in foreign film big.  But all this past speculation is now simply null and void, as this past August has finally given us the long-anticipated US release of the film in question, Little White Lies, whose original title is actually Les Petits Mouchoirs, or The Small Handkerchiefs, which in turn stems from the French expression "le mettre dans la poche avec le mouchoir par dessus," meaning literally to hide something beneath your handkerchief, or figuratively as hiding certain things about oneself, and in other words, telling little white lies - which, appropriately enough is exactly what this film is about.  But enough about distribution speculations or running times and the average moviegoer's attention span or the exact meaning of the French title, because we are here not to speculate but to analyze, so that is what we will attempt to do.  Just what is Little White Lies all about anyway?

The film stars some of the bigger (at least in cinephilaic circles) names of French cinema (only two of which are really well-known here) such as Francois Cluzet, Gilles Lellouche, Oscar winner Marion Cotillard and the aforementioned M. Dujardin in basically the role that was almost played by Kevin Costner in the aforementioned The Big Chill, the film, directed by Guillaume Canet who made the thrilling Hitchcockian Tell No One (incidentally featuring the aforementioned M. Cluzet and M. Lellouche), is an interweaving look at a group of Parisian bourgeoisie who spend the summer holiday together while one of their closest friends lies near death back home in Paris.  Full of secrets and more secrets, this close knit group begins to unravel as they each take a look at their lives and their relationships with one another.  The comparison to The Big Chill is inevitable I suppose as the plot lines do diverge quite often and both are a melange of comedy and tragedy and both use music prominently to give an explanation of sorts of the character's emotions and fears, but I think Little White Lies goes deeper and perhaps more daringly into the psyche than the former film did.  But then perhaps that is just this Francophile's rather partisan opinion.

But to compare it once more to The Big Chill, another thing Little White Lies has in common with the 1983 Lawrence Kasden directed Oscar nominee, is a gaggle of stellar performances.  Each and every one in this cast hands in a spectacular performance, highlighted by Cluzet, Lellouche and Cotillard, and it is through these performances, even more so than the directing by Canet (did this avowed auteurist just say that!?) that we get to the real dirt of the character's situations.  Both in how they deal with their individual problems and in how they interact with each other, a thing that varies throughout the film and a thing that can turn like a wildcat without even a moment's notice, as well as how each one copes with the potential loss of a friend.  In Tell No One, Canet weaves a tale with both his camera and his storytelling that plays out like a formalist study on the cinema of Hitchcock and/or Preminger, but here, the writer/director just lets his people go - and go they do.  With comi-tragic persistence, the actors here play out every conceivable aspect of emotional catharsis, and though in many cases, such antics would - and indeed have - produce something that either goes the way of overly dramatic or the way of mediocrity.  Here, though there are sudden bursts of melodrama, it seems to keep an even keel on all things emotional, giving the film a sense of empathy instead of pathos.  Whatever the case, let us just be happy that it has finally gotten its well-deserved US release - even if it hasn't hit it as big as one would have hoped.

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