"Dandy," a not very appropriate English title for a film that would be more correctly translated as "The Drugstore Gang," is an honest and rather sweet first feature from Francois Armanet which evokes an era, 1966-'67, when teenagers dressed smartly and were still shy and maladroit in their relationships with the opposite sex.

“Dandy,” a not very appropriate English title for a film that would be more correctly translated as “The Drugstore Gang,” is an honest and rather sweet first feature from Francois Armanet which evokes an era, 1966-’67, when teenagers dressed smartly and were still shy and maladroit in their relationships with the opposite sex. This tale of a bashful bumbler who just can’t make the right moves with the looker he adores carries the ring of truth without sacrificing humor or sex, and is an invigorating antidote to Hollywood teen comedies. It’s a minor pleasure, but one which should find appreciative audiences at fests and in limited release.

The film is set in Paris in the days before the sexual revolution and the political upheavals of 1968. The well-to-do teens Armanet (who based the film on his novel) describes are heavily influenced by English music and fashion, but they go to see Jean-Luc Godard movies (hoping for a little sex) and hang out at the Drugstore on the Champs Elysees, a newly opened mecca for the young, where they drink and smoke and sometimes get into fights.

Philippe, sweetly played by Mathieu Simonet, has started letting his hair grow long, but he’s never quite certain what to do with girls. One of his best friends is Nathalie (Alice Taglioni), a vivacious blonde who treats him like a brother and introduces him to Charlotte (Cecile Cassel), who is as shy and virginal as Philippe.

Nathalie takes Philippe and his more confident friend, Marc (Aurelien Wiik) to Charlotte’s birthday party, and from the time they make eye contact there’s a spark between the teens. They dance and they kiss, but that’s all that happens, and in the days that follow Philippe seems unable to make the next move, even though Charlotte gives him as much encouragement as possible.

In the end, Philippe’s sexual initiation comes from Nathalie, who unexpectedly comes on to him after they go swimming together while on summer vacation. For a while it seems as though Philippe and Nathalie are really soul-mates, but Nathalie knows that Charlotte will be devastated if she doesn’t get Philippe, so she keeps him at arm’s length and even shifts her attentions to Charlotte’s widowed businessman father (a cameo from Thierry Lhermitte).

Pic is full of well-observed incidents as the putative lovers never seem to get it together. In one scene, Philippe and another friend, Pierre (Laurent Pialet) pick up a couple of willing girls, and Philippe takes out his frustrations on one of them, with unexpected results.

Gallic to the core, pic is bountifully sexy and yet retains the innocence of its mild-mannered protagonist. The “quaint” dress style of the period, and the great soundtrack of standards from the era (lots of Aretha Franklin, the Easybeats’ “Friday on My Mind,” The Troggs’ “Wild Thing” and much more) make for a potent exercise in nostalgia.

Simonet is a delight as the desperately immature hero who masks his insecurities under a charming, trendy exterior, while Cassel, as the virginal Charlotte, and Taglioni as the more experienced Nathalie are quite delightful. Production values, starting with the crisp widescreen lensing, are immaculate.

Dandy

France

Production

A 3B Prods.-France 2 Cinema-Studio Canal production. (International sales: President Films, Paris.) Produced by Jean Brehat, Rachid Bouchareb. Directed by Francois Armanet. Screenplay, Armanet, Jean Helpert from the novel by Armanet.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Guillaume Schiffman; editor, Sandrine Degeen; ; production designers, Jean Marc, Tran Tan Ba; costume designer, Nathalie Raoul; sound (DTS stereo), Philippe Lecoeur; assistant director, Virgine Ferrant; casting, Annette Trumel. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama Special), Feb. 7, 2002. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Philippe Challes - Mathieu Simonet
Charlotte Stroesman - Cecile Cassel
Nathalie Messonier - Alice Taglioni
Marc Benoussan - Aurelien Wiik
Pierre - Laurent Pialet
Patrick - Matthias Van Khache
Jocelyne - Marie Ravel
Mr. Stroesman - Thierry Lhermitte
Mr. Benoussan - Romain Goupil
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