A proud aura of bumpkinhood surrounds “Feelings Needn’t Get in the Way,” an evenly paced story of two dorky pals who end up fighting over the same girl. In his helming debut, cinephile and commentator Jean-Pierre Jackson — a former schoolteacher who turned distrib to bring the films of Russ Meyer, John Waters and Kenji Mizoguchi to the French public — has chosen a worthy, if abandoned, genre for this romp. The filmic equivalent of easy-listening music, pic is a note-perfect rendition of a low-concept programmer that might have been made over 30 years ago but is set here and now. It’s a pointed and amusing reminder that the bulk of French cinema is miles removed from Rivette and Rohmer.
Affectionately corny and old-fashioned, down to its conviction that there’s nothing like a woman to derail a beautiful friendship, pic revels in its tacky decor and Xavier Cugat-laced soundtrack. Were it not for the calendars, cars, credit cards and cell phones, anyone happening upon the movie on TV would assume it was a relic of another era.
The cheerful and quasi-suave Felix (Philippe Chevallier) has just had his furniture seized for nonpayment of alimony, and the kvetchy Raoul (Regis Laspales) has just left his wife of 10 years, when the two men drown their sorrows at the same cafe. A fellow patron offers them a job, and the pair of urban washouts are soon driving through Brittany in a canary-yellow station wagon with a giant wine bottle on top.
As traveling sales reps for the all-purpose vintage “Le Gai Vendangeur” (The Jolly Vintner), the two Parisians prove utterly useless until local beauty Eliane (Cecile Bois), an accommodating and sweet-natured cross between Bardot and Monroe, joins them. The wine begins to sell itself as purchasing directors drool over Eliane and place huge orders, paying in cash. The two losers start living the life of Riley, but matters devolve when Felix and Eliane embark on an affair that leaves the dour Raoul out of the equation.
“It’s so romantic, it’s like a Claude Lelouch movie on TV,” says Eliane, with genuine delight, during a weekend boat excursion. (Pic’s other direct film reference is a little tonier: While Felix and Eliane get between the sheets, Raoul sullenly watches on TV Alain Corneau’s 1979 crimer, “Serie noire.”)
Lensing and editing are perfectly in keeping with the overall tone. As the curvaceous bundle of childlike delight, Bois is jaw-droppingly adorable. Chevallier and Laspales, already known for their stage antics, fit their roles to a T, and an assortment of veteran comedians fill the supporting roles with low-key gusto.