The great Isabelle Huppert seems to be the star of this, the latest outing from formidable French filmmaker François Ozon, but she’s really only in the second half, which means that the actual protagonists are the relatively unfamiliar Nadia Tereszkiewicz and Rebecca Marder. But no matter, because they’re wonderful too.
Drawn from a 1934 play (filmed twice in ‘Old Hollywood’) but reworked by Ozon to include a series of spiky contemporary themes, this more than succeeds in capturing the spirit of Tinseltown melodramas and screwball comedies. And it looks fabulous, what with those golden hues, vintage cars, and gorgeous femmes.
In 1935, as the world beyond prepares for war, aspiring actress Madeleine Verdier (Tereszkiewicz) lives with her lawyer bestie Pauline Mauléon (Marder), and both fight off the self-righteous landlord to whom they owe thousands of francs. Madeleine has a meeting with sleazy film producer Montferrand (Jean-Christophe Bouvet), and when he winds up dead and she is charged with his murder, the court case becomes a cause célèbre that turns her into a huge celebrity. But then former silent film star Odette Chaumette (Huppert) turns up and threatens to spoil everything for reasons you can probably guess.
Quite unlike Ozon’s string of more serious recent movies (from In The House and The New Girlfriend, to Summer Of 85 and Peter von Kant), this can be enjoyed without worrying about the political trimmings, and yet they’re definitely there, with Bouvet’s ghastly Montferrand very obviously a pre-war version of Harvey Weinstein.
And while the first hour or so, with the focus on Nadia and Rebecca, is sometimes very funny, the second half has them alongside Isabelle, who offers a grand performance that never quite munches the scenery, allowing the younger actresses the chance to shine. Which is sweet because surely they must have felt at least a little damn intimidated.
Who wouldn’t have been, mes amis?