If Massy Tadjedin’s Last Night (2010) proved why Guillame Canet should never act again, Little White Lies (not to be confused with the bi-montly film magazine) confirms why his career as a director is destined for greatness – and longevity. A summer-set dramedy, the film revolves around a group of friends going on holiday after a member of their group, Ludo (Jean Dujardin), is injured in a motorcycle accident. They’re worried about him, but decide that their planned trip will be an ideal getaway from the stresses of Paris life, and so they head off to Max (François Cluzet) and Véro’s (Valérie Bonneton) beach house; the destination of choice for the group’s annual vacations. But trouble may lie in paradise after all…
It sounds like a sitcom special (remember that Only Fools And Horses two-parter, Miami Twice, where Del Boy and Rodney get involved with a mafia family?), but Little White Lies is actually a mature and insightful relationship drama. Most films of this type are moody, introspective affairs, unfurling in pensive silences and shades of grey. Canet’s film, however, is bathed in sunlight, and remains positively optimistic even in its darkest moments. It can be hard, amid the musical montages, to feel sympathy for these people – after all, they’re off enjoying themselves while Ludo lies in agony back home – but we can relate to their individual problems, and understand the need for them to be together at this time. It would be nice if Canet allowed for more than one phone call home – especially considering the emotional weight required to pull of the ending – but hey, them’s the breaks.
The film begins with a stunning tracking shot which follows Ludo from the toilets of a Parisian nightclub to the moment of his accident, when his bike is hit by a lorry. It’s a whirlwind of an opening; Canet’s camera glides through the club as it vibrates to the head-thumping sounds of Jet’s ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl’, and the neon red lights create an energized atmosphere. Then Ludo takes his leave and the stillness of the streets are established – the roads are almost empty and, shooting from a distance, Canet allows for space to be established around the character. We track him down the road until the moment of the crash, which is incredibly realistic. I took a sharp intake of breath upon the moment of impact, and an even sharper one when we cut to the hospital. Ludo’s injury detail is worryingly exact. The makeup artists on this film deserve applause, for the pain is tangible.
But the majority of time is spent at the beach house, which is infested with weasels, much to the irritation of Max, a tightly-wound restaurant owner who’s just found out that his friend Vincent (Benoît Magimel) is harboring romantic feelings for him. Max is a midlife crisis waiting to happen, and Cluzet – something of a French Dustin Hoffman – plays him beautifully, bringing pathos and humour to the frustrated character. Also brilliant is Marion Cotillard, playing the pot smoking Marie, who has recently come back from the Amazon. She’s a free spirit, and likes to sleep around, but she’s also repressing complicated emotions. With the wrong actress this character could have come across as very one-note, and somewhat unsympathetic, but Cotillard makes her human, and never strains for an emotion. Gilles Lellouche is also brilliant as Eric, who fancies himself an actor, but has only starred in two TV movies. He’s a restless romantic and, again, Lellouche turns a potentially dud cliché into a layered and frustrating human being. Eventually I warmed to him; not everybody reveals their true colours within five minutes, as many films require.
It’s ridiculously overlong (154 minutes, of which a third could be lost), but Little White Lies is recommendable nonetheless. It’s smart, witty and lots of fun, but never shies away from the emotional realities of its characters, who remain true to themselves throughout the film. Perhaps the reason for the film’s length is because the relationships are allowed to play out naturalistically, and nobody’s personality has to change for the convenience of the plot. Exaggerated though the scenarios may be (for comic effect), they are never manipulated. These could be people you know, and with that quality Canet calls to mind one of my very favorite filmmakers. Indeed, had Eric Rohmer been born in the 1970’s this might have been his debut – a new-age Pauline At The Beach (1983), if you will…
The film looks gorgeous on Blu, especially the beach-set sequences; the sun glimmers on the ocean, the sand glistens, and the stars look more beautiful than ever – believe me, you’ll want to take a holiday after watching this film. The extras are a little flimsy. The 25-minute ‘Making Of’ is pretty standard, but reveals some interesting production tidbits. It’s a breezy affair, but the fun really lies with the rest of the package. A gag reel reveals just how much fun the actors had on set, and 54-minute’s worth of deleted scenes inform how glad we should be that the film only runs 40 minutes overlong.
Little White Lies is out on DVD and blu-ray 22nd August 2011.
Director: Guillaume Canet
Writer: Guillaume Canet
Stars: François Cluzet, Marion Cotillard, Benoît Magimel
Runtime: 154 min
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