LITTLE WHITE LIES
Successful restaurateur Max (Francois Cluzet) and his wife Vero (Valerie Bonneton) gather a group of their friends every summer at their beautiful beach house not far from Bordeaux. When Ludo (Jean Dujardin) is badly injured in a motorcycle accident just before their seaside reunion, his friends flock to his bedside, uncertain what to do. After some intense discussion and agreeing there is nothing they can do, they decide to head off for their holiday, but plan to cut it short to come back and visit him. Once at the beach, through a succession of incidents, the group is pulled apart and dragged together by their ties of loyalty and marriage. Their relationships, convictions, sense of guilt and friendship are sorely tested. They are finally forced to own up to the little white lies they have been telling each other.
Review by Louise Keller:
The threads of friendship are explored in this intricate look at relationships and the way they impact on each other. Guillaume Canet's film is a beautifully constructed and insightful ensemble piece in which a group of friends head to the coast for their summer holidays but find it less relaxing than they expect. Relationships are strained, drained and pained and the film's trajectory takes us on a tumultuous journey involving trust, honesty and guilt. Influenced by such films as The Big Chill, Canet has gathered together a talented group of actors who know each other well and created situations that are awkward, funny and charming. It's a delightful interlude although at 154 minutes, it's far too long and inevitably the film drags in parts.
There's a cloud hanging over the summer holidays this year with Ludo (Jean Dujardin) in hospital after a motorcycle accident. Nonetheless, after um-ing and ah-ing about whether or not to leave him, there's fun and frivolity as the group of friends head for the Atlantic and the comfortable beach-house owned by Max Cantara (François Cluzet). Max is on edge, after learning that his osteopath buddy Vincent Ribaud (Benoît Magimel) has the hots for him. Both are married with children. But they are not alone in having relationship issues. Marie (Marion Cotillard) keeps on having one-night stands and smokes joints to stay relaxed. To text or not to text his ex-girlfriend Juliette (Anne Marivin) is the quandary of lovelorn Antoine (Laurent Lafitte) and Eric (Gilles Lellouche) the Lothario chats up the local girls while waiting for his girlfriend Lea (Louise Monot) to join them.
The build up of the secret sexual attraction between Vincent and Max is nicely played with a fine balance of seriousness and humour; poor Max becomes a total wreck, keeping an anxious eye on Vincent and becoming increasingly impatient with everyone else who is lazing about while he wants to take his boat onto the water. Meanwhile noisy weasels in the roof are keeping him awake at night and not unexpectedly there's an eventual showdown. Cluzet is excellent as Max, making us understand his frustrations and abject fear at the homosexual presence. He, Cotillard, Magimel and Lellouche deliver impeccable performances in what is an outstanding ensemble cast.
There are many highlights and I love the scene in which Marie's occasional musician lover Franck (Maxim Nucci) pops in for the night. There's also Nassim (Hocine Mérabet), the new age trainer who tells an unforgettable tale about the power of love and involving two jars of rice. Joël Dupuch as the local oyster farmer Jean-Louis cuts through the niceties, reinforcing there is nothing better than honesty. On the flip side of the humour lies the serious implication of the lies of the title, which are not only voiced but couched in self-denial.
If you've dreamed of living in France, the beautiful French countryside and laid back ambience of Cap Ferret will whet your appetite.
Published first in the Sun-Herald
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
You'll like this if you liked The Big Chill ... to usurp a common form of shorthand describing films. But it's much more interesting to discuss Little White Lies in full, because Guillaume Canet's beautifully observed screenplay (his first after his multi award winning Tell No-One ) and his immaculate direction propel some outstanding performances to deliver something of lasting value. It's a joy to spend two and a half hours immersed in a seemingly simple slice of French summer life. Beneath the surface - where Canet delves with sensitivity and insight - this average group experiences a minor crisis, a jolt in their lives which provides the trigger for some soul searching.
Rather like the oyster which produces a beautiful pearl from the friction of grit inside it, this group of friends reveal themselves in the face of the crisis. That crisis is the accident which leaves their friend Ludo (Jean Dujardin) in a critical condition in hospital. The first moral hurdle Canet poses for his characters (and us) is what they should do now; still go on their usual seaside vacation or stay by his bedside? What would we do - given there is nothing really they can do for Ludo, even they stay.
But the pragmatic decision to go ahead has consequences. Not obvious, mind you, and Canet's skill is in avoiding many obvious conclusions to the various problems of his group, from the romantic to the mundane. An example of how the latter is significant concerns weasels that get into the roof of the summer house, to the extreme chagrin of Max (Francois Cluzet). His reaction escalates over the course of several days until it explodes in a tragi-comic fashion. But there is more to this than the weasels, and it's that sharp eye for human behaviour that makes Canet so adroit at telling this story.
And a story it is, although he hides it under the cloak of a summer holiday with no particular plotline; but by the end, we understand what he set out to say: it's all in the title. Well, not all, because what the title omits is that the little white lies refer not only to those we regularly tell others, but the ones we also tell ourselves. Those self-protecting ones. Those deep seated ones.
There is one other key dramatic element, regarding the revelation by happily married Vincent (Benoit Magimel) to also married Max, that he has a unique love for him, but no other men - which reverberates throughout the film with sometimes dramatic consequences. Some might say this is a manufactured and perhaps even unbelievable element; I've learnt, though, that humans are endlessly surprising and hardly ever predictable. Never assume anything about anyone is my mantra.
The entire cast is superb, memorable, vibrant: Cluzet (disconcertingly reminiscent of Dustin Hoffman) delivers a multi-faceted Max whose flaws are more interesting than his best characteristics; Marion Cotillard's vulnerable and adorable Marie is a standout, as are Magimel as the complex, confused Vincent; Gilles Lellouche as Eric, who likes to play around with girls but is desperate for a real relationship which he fears will never happen; and Joel Dupuch as the local boatman and fisherman Jean-Louis, the elder and wiser outsider who tells it like he sees it and wakes them all up to their shortcomings.
The clear and tangible characters become familiar to us over the course of the film, and we are privy to some of their deepest fears and longings. It is this that makes the film so haunting and so immersive. They are all imperfect people, readily recognisable from our own menu of friends, and their flaws are a part of their make up. So let's not rush to judgement .... But the little white lies can sometimes hide important truths.
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LITTLE WHITE LIES (M)
Les petits mouchoirs
CAST: Marion Cotillard, Francois Cluzet, Benoit Magimel, Gilles Lellouche, Jean Dujardin, Laurent Lafitte, Valerie Bonneton, Pascale Arbillot
PRODUCER: Alain Attal
DIRECTOR: Guillaume Canet
SCRIPT: Guillaume Canet
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Christoph Offenstein
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Philippe Chiffre
RUNNING TIME: 154 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 16, 2011