Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Canet’s Little White Lies

Imagine the characters from the Friends sitcom were French and approaching middle age.  That would give you a pretty accurate picture of Ludo’s circle.  It also means their banter and sexual hang-ups are becoming less comedic and increasingly sad.  However, they will have to do without his company as they struggle with their latest resentments and insecurities while spending an unusually awkward holiday together in Guillaume Canet’s Little White Lies (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Ludo was the glue that held his friends together.  The reckless bachelor was the one everyone always loved best.  Unfortunately, he does not see that semi coming as he makes his woozy way home after an all night bender.  He is in bad shape, but the prognosis is vaguely encouraging, so his friends agree to an abbreviated vacation, thereby tempting fate rather wantonly.

The summer house belongs to hardnosed hotelier Max Cantara—and no one is allowed to forget it.  Vincent Ribaud certainly won’t.  The married father has recently confessed feelings of ambiguous attraction to his longtime friend.  In retrospect, this is a mistake.  With Cantara and Ribaud acting conspicuously aloof around each other, the bachelors Eric and Antoine agonize over relationships they recently sabotaged.  The latter is a raging neurotic who alienated his girlfriend with his obsessive behavior.  The former is just a self-centered jerk.  Yet, he still carries a small torch for platonic pal Marie, who is also in the process of driving away a perfectly good lover, but is not particularly interested in filling the void.

Though Ludo is on life support for most of the film, just about every word written about Lies has invoked The Big Chill.  The 1960’s era soundtrack really accentuates the parallels, but the lack of any further 60’s cultural baggage allows the story to breathe and veritably breeze along, even though tragedy always lurks around the corner.  Ludo was never any kind of activist that’s for sure (though Marie sort of is, but her African field work is largely considered a joke by her friends).

At one hundred fifty-four minutes Lies is a long film, chocked full of melodramatic situations, but somehow Canet never lets it get too heavy, at least until the big emotional climax.  Frankly, he keeps it quite snappy, which is always a virtue.  He has a fine cast to call upon, including two Oscar winners: Jean Dujardin, only briefly seen as Ludo (but nice work all the same), and Marion Cotillard, doing her best hipster Mae West thing as Marie.  Yet, it is Francois Cluzet (who will forever be Françis Paudras in Round Midnight for many of us) who really makes the picture crackle and hum as the angry but fundamentally decent Cantara.  He brings a shot of vigor to each of his scenes.  Conversely, Laurent Lafitte’s mopey Antoine is like an energy-suck.

Even though everyone knows where Lies is headed, it still comes together rather well.  Yes, we all need to grow-up at some point, but we should never forget to tell our friends what they mean to us.  Indeed, you can stick the film’s messages up there on the fridge next to the Robert Frost poems.  Yet when you get right down to it, any film that ends with a Nina Simone song can’t be all bad.  Combining several fine performances with a nimble directorial touch, Little White Lies somehow breaks down viewer resistance to its ensemble angst.  Recommended for Francophiles and fans of the big name French cast, Little White Lies opens this Friday (8/24) in New York at the Angelika Film Center.