Review: ‘A Hell if a Day’

The destinies of a handful of strangers collide during one hectic day in Paris in Marion Vernoux's mild and amiable "A Hell of a Day," the latest ensembler to intro a clutch of characters and tease out the unexpected links between them.

The destinies of a handful of strangers collide during one hectic day in Paris in Marion Vernoux’s mild and amiable “A Hell of a Day,” the latest ensembler to intro a clutch of characters and tease out the unexpected links between them. However, despite a reasonably tart and amusing premise, and two interesting central characters, the secondary participants in the drama carry so little weight that they give the film a lopsided effect. Pic certainly lacks the originality to allow it to stand out in a crowd in the highly competitive international marketplace.

Hortense (Karine Viard) is married with two children but feels shortchanged in bed. She has no sooner seen her husband off on the train to London than she’s on her cell phone trying to contact Shermann (Gilbert Melki), a friend of her ex-lover, Ben (Melvil Poupaud).

Meanwhile, Marie (Helene Fillieres), who works in a photo shop, discovers she’s pregnant. The man involved was the bridegroom at a wedding she photographed (and featured in the film’s opening sequence). When the bride and groom show up to collect the wedding photos, they’re shocked to find Marie has destroyed them. She is fired and consoles herself with what proves to be a disastrous session at a trendy hairdressing salon, unaware that the client next to her is Hortense, who happens to be the sister of the philandering bridegroom.

The misadventures of Hortense and Marie during what turns out to be an increasingly complicated day would have been enough to carry the film. But the inclusion of two other characters, both of them men, is much less successful and threatens to derail the film’s fragile structure. Maurice (Victor Lanoux), an elderly man living in squalor, awaits with trepidation the visit of a woman (Jane Birkin) he knew years before but who left him for another man.

Meanwhile, bus driver Luis (Sergi Lopez) has an unwelcome visit from his wife while driving his regular route; she tells him she’s leaving him. It’s sad to see an actor of the stature of Lopez, so good in “With a Friend Like Harry,” relegated to a pointless marginal role.

All the characters come together in the end, of course, and Vernoux brings off the mood of slightly cruel comedy most successfully in an amusingly embarrassing sequence in a restaurant. But despite fine performances from Viard, as the faithless wife, and Fillieres, as the frustrated one-night stand, the film as a whole doesn’t add up to much.

It’s technically adroit, though the director indulges in a little too much visual trickery (slo-mo and speeded-up scenes), and Alexandre Desplat’s irritatingly jaunty music score is over-used.

A Hell if a Day



A Pyramide release of an ADR Prods.-StudioCanal-France 3 Cinema production. (International sales: Flach Pyramide Intl., Paris.) Produced by Alain Rozanes, Pascal Verroust. Directed by Marion Vernoux. Screenplay, Vernoux, Nathalie Kristy.


Camera (color), Dominique Colin; editor, Lise Beaulieu; music, Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Emmanuelle Duplay; costume designer, Virginia Vogwill; sound (Dolby digital), Michel Casang; casting, Bruno Levy. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing, Cinema of Present), Aug. 31, 2001. (Also in Toronto Film Festival--Contemporary World Cinema.) Running time: 91 MIN.


Hortense - Karine Viard
Marie - Helene Fillieres
Maurice - Victor Lanoux
Jane - Jane Birkin
Luis - Sergi Lopez
Michele - Clementine Celarie
Shermann - Gilbert Melki
Ben - Melvil Poupaud
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