The provincial cleaning lady of a heartless high-finance whiz from Paris puts more than just the apartment in order in “My Piece of the Pie,” an atypically low-key and unglamorous film from Gallic mainstream writer-director Cedric Klapisch (“Paris”). Though the setup sounds cliche, the storytelling is polished enough to keep auds hooked and occasionally surprised, while Karin Viard (“Potiche,” “Nothing to Declare”) further consolidates her rep as one of France’s most versatile actresses. Though not a huge opener by helmer’s standards, this March 16 release topped the local B.O., and will find employment in Franco-friendly territories and fests.
In 1992, Klapisch debuted with “Riens du tout,” about the employees of a department store on the verge of bankruptcy, showcasing the multicharacter approach typical of his later films (“When the Cat’s Away,” “L’Auberge espagnole,” “Russian Dolls”). Almost 20 years later, “Riens du tout” star Viard again teams up with the director for a film about workers and grave economic threats in “My Piece of the Pie,” though, unusually for Klapisch, the story now focuses on just two people: dowdy, unemployed mom France (Viard) and suave broker Steve (Gilles Lellouche).
France, from the north of Gaul, was let go when the factory where she had worked for two decades was forced to close, something caused in part by a successful deal Steve brokered in London, which resulted in his transfer to Paris. France can’t find a job at home, but is serendipitously employed by Steve as a cleaning woman.
Early reels offer a realistic look at the current economic crisis on a human scale, marbled with the usual Klapisch feel-good moments, such as a lovely but superfluous sequence involving an army of small tykes needing to be fed.
Once the two protags cross paths some 30 minutes in, the scribe-helmer adds enough nuances and minor twists to keep things from becoming too predictable. Though France is clearly the working-class heroine to Steve’s smug and soulless executive, she also enjoys spending her well-earned money. And while she chides Steve for not taking the time to look after his small son (Lunis Sakji), France has left her daughters to their own devices at the home of her sister (Audrey Lamy).
Strong lead performances further move the characters away from stereotypes. Viard is aces as an essentially decent woman and hard worker with a reckless streak that dominates the film’s early going and the unexpectedly agitated final reel. Viard seamlessly integrates high comedy into an otherwise naturalistic turn, showcased in two hilarious scenes in which France is forced to pretend to be someone she’s not. Lellouche is especially effective in a handful of Venice-set moments in which Steve discovers that always getting what you want might come at a price.
As with Klapisch’s most recent efforts, the pic is technically fairly solid, though intentionally less polished than the helmer’s star-studded ensembler “Paris”; both were shot by d.p. Christophe Beaucarne, who is also specifically credited for “Pie’s” beautiful framing. While the film was lensed mostly on 35mm, the nighttime sequences were done on a Canon 1D hybrid photo/film camera, and Beaucarne’s relative inexperience with this type of equipment may explain the flatness of the images in these scenes, as well as the excessive grain and noise.