By Jim Mackney
De plus belle is a French rom-com by debut director, Anne-Gaëlle Daval, and it is a curious take on the romantic comedy genre, focusing much more on the sense of self of the main character Lucie (Florence Foresti), as she battles with the physical and mental side effects of having breast cancer.
Admittedly this doesn’t sound a particularly happy area to mine for that usual light touch that romantic comedies aim for but De plus belle manages to straddle the line between comedic and heartfelt very well. This is in no small part to Foresti, who outside of this work is a stand up comedian and here she is playing very much against type.
Foresti brings depth to her role as a single mother attempting to rebuild her life, using her family around her as a crutch to get her through the hell she is experiencing. The family are portrayed very conventionally and do little to break out of the stereotype of being loving but slightly mean to each other and this is slightly hammed up for dramatic and comedic effect.
Lucie’s brother, Frédéric (Jonathan Cohen), is also her doctor and the main familial sense of love and warmth emanates from these two characters. Frédéric is the first person to mention that she should enjoy her life and to paraphrase, tell her that ‘life is for living’. Lucie scoffs at this notion, using her age and situation to act the pessimist.
Enter Clovis (Mathieu Kassovitz). We first see Clovis in the opening scene of film, where Lucie and her friends are in a nightclub. The tone of the film is set out clearly here with Lucie playing the battle scarred middle-aged woman and Clovis, the slightly pushy but attractive middle-aged man. Clovis as the film’s main love interest rings true and it is clear that there is a connection between the two characters but their first exchanges are the most entertaining. These exchanges are crackling with wit and offer some of the film’s strongest writing. The best line in the film is given to Lucie’s 15-year-old daughter, Hortense (Jeanne Astier), who informs Lucie that her wig makes her look like ‘Morticia Addams’.
It is this withering put down that kick starts Lucie’s journey to rediscover herself and her body. Upon meeting Dalila (Nicole Garcia) in her wig shop, Lucie, is given a makeover; new wig, new make up, new self-confidence. The wig doesn’t go down well with Lucie’s mother, Yvonne (Josée Drevon) however, with her liking her to a can-can girl.
The central premise of the film is explored though the use of dance, friendship and being comfortable in your own skin. This is a film that is light on its feet and has an emotional pay off through pulling the loose ends together. Overall it is an engaging and thoughtful film and well worth seeking out for an alt-take on a well-worn genre.