Les Petits Mouchoirs (Little White Lies)

Director: Guillaume Canet
Starring: Marion Cotillard, François Cluzet, Benoît Magimel
Runtime: 154 mins
Rating: ***

This film is showing in York at City Screen. Click here for more information.

Ludo, self-proclaimed party animal, stumbles out of a narrow toilet stall, cocaine powdering the end of his nose. He dances out into the fluorescent-lit Parisian club, flirting along the way, downs a glass of whiskey, and decides to call it a night. He walks outside to his scooter, puts his helmet on, and begins the drive home. The sun has just risen, and the Parisian streets are dusted with a dim, grainy, morning light. The camera follows Ludo as he travels home, a destination he never reaches, being blind-sided by a truck, and subsequently sent to intensive care.

His close knit group of thirty-something friends visit him in hospital, and find themselves faced with the dilemma of whether to stay in Paris and care for him, or swan off on a holiday they have already booked to the south of France. Concluding unanimously that they should follow their established plans, the group travel to their beach house for two weeks of rest and relaxation, whilst Ludo sits in intensive care, alone. The beach becomes the focus of this movie, as we follow the group on their holiday. Observing the minutiae of a bourgeois lifestyle consisting of wine-glugging, oyster-eating and power-boating, the fate of Ludo seeps into the background bit by bit.

Canet creates a vast ensemble of characters, and seeks to explore their individual interactions, the tensions of love and loss within the group. There’s Vincent (Benoît Magimel), the closet homosexual, Max (François Cluzet), the highly-strung business-man, Marie (Marion Cotillard) pot-smoking counter-culturist, and five or six other characters all with their own stories. Yet whilst Canet’s focus is clearly on the relationship of one human to another, this is by no means a stern character study. The first half of Canet’s movie seeks to establish the basis of relationships which he will delve into individually at a later stage. This part of the movie manifests itself as a fun and incredibly human comedy, sprinkled with bouts of slapstick, which establish the solvency of the group. It is only once the third act springs around that this solvency is challenged, and things get heavy. But as things get serious, Canet seems to lose a grip on the trajectory of his narrative at its most crucial point.

Unlike Alejandro González Iñárritu, or Guillermo Arriaga, who have mastered the art of carrying webs of characters, Canet introduces so many that their stories, and what lies behind those stories, never really comes to fruition. There is emotional weight, yes, but the gravity of situations and relationships isn’t allowed the time (even at 154 minutes!), to really mature into anything profound. Instead we are presented with a somewhat unbalanced and over-zealous portrait of a group of friends, which never really reaches its latent potential. Similarly we completely forget about Ludo, stuck in intensive care, whilst the group of friends get drunk, and go running, water-skiing, and socialise without him, which begs the question as to why he is introduced in the first place?

Yet nevertheless, just as Canet chooses to begin the film with Ludo he also decides to end it with him, in a move which jars with the aesthetic and emotive tone of the rest of the movie. By the end of the movie, we are far less interested in Ludo, (a character who has had no more than ten minutes screen-space – for most of which he is lying motionless in bed), than the host of holidaying characters Canet has worked so hard to construct over the course of the film. Unfortunately it is Canet’s sheer ambition which lets his movie down. There are some fantastic moments of tragedy and comedy, and it is easy to see why the movie has been so popular in its home country, but is hard to deny that there are also moments of sheer indifference. The simple fact is that Canet tackles too much at once, causing a viewer, on occasion, to feel lost, confused, and disorientated, meaning that the movie’s overarching message is unintentionally obscured, perhaps even completely lost.

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