January 20, 2009

I Do! (Prete-moi ta main): French antidote to Bride Wars

i do

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ****

When Eric Lartigau did his Q&A, after the debut screening of I Do during the FSLC's Rendez-vous with French Cinema in 2007, a viewer asked when his film might be released in the USA. Don't hold your breath, M. Lartigau told us, because instead, negotiations were afoot for an American remake. A collective groan of displeasure went up from the audience, and Lartigau seemed taken aback. We had to explain to the French filmmaker that film buffs of the sort who frequent a festival like this, want to see their movies in their original language rather than remade into what generally comes out a poor second to the original. The filmmaker appeared surprised but pleased at this news. Two years later, we've still seen no remake, and now, thanks to Lionsgate, we've got that original on DVD.

An enormous popular and critical success in France, I Do (Prête-Moi Ta Main) stars two of that country's popular performers: Alain Chabat (he'll soon be seen here in the Night at the Museum sequel) and Charlotte Gainsbourg (Golden Door, Lemming, Science of Sleep). The story – which was Chabat's idea, as well, with a screenplay by Philippe Mechelen – involves one of those pretend-to-be-my-fiancée-so-my-family-will-leave-me-alone plots that, when done well, can rise to dizzyingly fizzy heights.

All concerned handle this one very well, with twists and turns aplenty and fine performances all around. The famous French star Bernadette Lafont (who, in her nearly 170 performances, has graced everything from Chabrol's Les Bonnes Femmes to Son of Gascogne) pays Chabat's mom, and she's great fun.

This is the kind of romantic comedy that the French can manage well enough with their eyes closed and both hands tied behind their back. When all circuits are firing, all the better. Lartigau, whose training was in TV, manages to disguise this fact rather well and gives us a nimble romantic farce that provides everything from the requisite laughs to the de rigueur happy ending and can still leave sophisticated audiences happy.

Among the particular delights here is the Chabat character's job (he's the best scent smeller in France, and this will prove good for a number of smiles and situations). It is always a pleasure to see Ms Gainsbourg, and she does not disappoint. In fact, she pretty much steals the movie. It's difficult to think of another actress -- except perhaps her mom, Jane Birkin (La Belle Noiseuse, Merci, Docteur Rey) who possesses this peculiar ability to be sweet, feisty, charming, klutzy, adorable and absolutely real all at once and throughout an entire film. She marvelous – and so's the movie.

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Posted by cphillips at January 20, 2009 10:45 AM
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