Unusual Gallic mix of “Love Story”-type tearjerker and backstage theater-folk-at-work procedural, “As if Nothing Happened” maintains a pleasing balance and delicate touch, skillfully avoiding the strident and the sappy. The director of a small repertory company, Thomas (played by pic’s helmer Pierre Olivier Mornas), falls head-over-heels for a terminally ill young woman (a vibrant Alice Carel) and casts her as the lead in his new play. A deliberately “slight” piece, pic’s genuine modesty and winning thesps have garnered several festival audience awards. “Nothing” lacks scope and name cast to pull arthouse auds, but its quiet virtues might well shine on cable.
Mornas’ Thomas, slightly harried yet possessing an oddly centered absent-mindedness, takes everything in stride. Indeed, the small troupe seems remarkably free of the egotism and self-importance that often struts the boards in “All About Eve”-style movies about the “theatah.”
Hammering planks before a play’s opening, Thomas is introduced to the radiant Alix (Carel) and suddenly, uncharacteristically, kisses her passionately. Love scenes between the couple are of the “mad love” persuasion, as the two first race down the street holding hands and next tear off each other’s clothes in a smiling sexual frenzy.
Title refers to the fact that by tacit agreement, heroine’s fatal illness is never discussed: She hides it from her new lover, and he never lets on that he knows. Undergoing radiation treatments in the morning and stalwartly attending rehearsals in the afternoon, Alix effervesces on. Thomas researches her sickness on the Internet and finds “irritability” ranked as one of the symptoms. But her only sign of petulance comes during a rehearsal, leading to a totally cathartic “why me?” revolt which is duly incorporated into a killer reading of her lines.
Mornas, both as helmer and as actor, uses the mechanical process of putting on a play to defuse the sentimentality of pic’s premise while proposing a subtle birth/death scenario that runs beneath the surface. Thus the birth of a foal at Alix’s mother’s house becomes a dress rehearsal for an actor (Rufus) who, in the play, portrays Alix’s obstetrician.
Mornas’ smart under-direction pays off particularly well in pic’s throwaway surprise coda.
Tech credits are modest but accomplished.