A critical and popular success that wears its narrative flimsiness with pride , “God’s Got My Number (Versailles — Chantier)” follows the romantic entanglements of an indecisive nebbish as he quasi-courts three women almost entirely at their behest. Practically the only French release to win a following post-Cannes, pic is still going strong after two months in local hardtops, but will require extra special handling to penetrate offshore.
In this full-length sequel-of-sorts to their 1991 debut, the 47-minute “Versailles — Rive Gauche” (A Night in Versailles), brothers Bruno (scripter-helmer) and Denis (co-scripter and lead) Podalydes deftly construct the central character’s endearingly clumsy approach to politics, women and social gatherings. Pic is the middle installment of a trilogy-in-progress named after train stations in the brothers’ native Versailles.
With its eye and ear for the occasionally embarrassing byways of human behavior, “God’s Got My Number” is about “nothing” in a fashion that won’t be unfamiliar to fans of “Seinfeld” — that is, if each episode of the sitcom evolved at an Iowa rather than Manhattan pace, featured half as much patter and lasted two hours.
Balding soundman Albert (Denis Podalydes) has a terrible time nailing down his convictions, whether he’s asked to give street directions, participate in a protest march or select the “right” shirt for a first date. While working on a spot for a political campaign in Toulouse, Albert and his pal Otto (Jean-Noel Broute) donate blood so as to meet cute nurse Sophie (Isabelle Candelier), with encouraging results.
Back in Paris, the premiere of a pretentious nature film puts Albert in closer contact with quirky journalist-cum-filmmaker Anna (Jeanne Balibar). In one of pic’s funniest sequences, Albert, nervous with desire, keeps running to the restaurant bathroom to vomit, which forthright Anna takes as a compliment.
Although he’s a prevaricating wimp, nothing to look at and congenitally awkward, Albert is also irresistible to Corinne (Cecile Bouillot), a cop who’s dating one of Albert’s best friends, the incorrigible Francois (Michel Vuillermoz). Francois’ comically incongruous job involves greeting the public in a revolving tropical-themed stand whose chairs are giant coconut shells.
Interlocking series of low-key adventures boasts a few terrific set pieces and charming sight gags. (Pic also leans heavily on running jokes about Cuba, and recycles “Guantanamera” and two other famous songs in unexpected guises throughout.) It mostly meanders in a leisurely, though not unpleasant, manner increasingly common in French films that tickle the locals and their pocketbooks (e.g., “While the Cat’s Away,” “Western”).
But substance is in the eye of the beholder, and as more and more French pics by young helmers weigh in as open-ended slices of life observed with a dusting of humor over the underlying angst, this is certainly a fine example of where Gallic cinema is here and now. Lensing and thesping are thoughtful and engaging.