The fortunes and misfortunes of a handful of striving artists intent on making a mark in Paris are presented with a wry, appealingly melancholy touch in writer-director Marc Fitoussi’s “La vie d’artiste.” While far from being the first French film about people determined to score in the literary and performing arts, pic boasts a breezy script full of satisfying little twists, all brought to life by well-cast thesps possessed of good comic timing. Winner of the MPA’s Michel D’Ornano prize for promising first film opens Sept. 5 in Gaul and is worth a look by international distribs.
Template, in which a novelist, an actress and an aspiring singer find the Gods of Success busily mocking their talent, is pleasingly Gallic but could be adapted to most any city to which creative types flock. Script’s strength is in the way it thumbs its nose at hard work and talent in favor of dumb luck, fortuitous connections and stealth satisfactions where least expected.
Pic’s philosophical undercurrent is fed by variations on: Be careful what you wish for, because you might just get it.
It’s an open secret at the high school where they both teach that French lit prof Bertrand (Denis Podalydes) lives with math teacher Solange (Valerie Benguigui). Bertrand owes his editor a second novel, and it’s going badly. Frederic (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet), the self-described “least popular boy in school,” is the only fan of Bertrand’s prose.
Cora (Emilie Dequenne), 24, yearns to be a singer but is hampered by her fondness for outmoded songwriters. She came to the big city from the provinces, and makes ends meet by working — disastrously — at a chain steakhouse. Aure Atika scores as the eatery’s beleaguered manager.
Lanky, dour Alice (Sandrine Kiberlain) no longer gets considered for real roles since she accepted work dubbing Japanese manga cartoons. She’s bitter that drama school classmate Annabella (Camille Japy) is the toast of the legit stage, making her a distracted aunt to her nephew and a scatterbrained downer of a guest whenever she visits her sister, Lea (Maryline Canto). Claire Maurier (who played Antoine Doinel’s mother in “The 400 Blows”) is a hoot as Alice’s agent, Jocelyne.
Benedicte (Solenn Jarniou), the near-comatose sound engineer for Alice’s dubbing sessions, simmers instead of speaking. When she opens her mouth at last, it’s a comic highlight.
When kismet puts vet songwriter Joseph Costals (Jean-Pierre Kalfon) in Cora’s path, her luck would appear to turn. Maria Schneider is amusing as Costals’ quirky, long-suffering wife.
Strength of the efficiently lensed and edited pic is that the viewer never loses track of the many characters or their professional advances and setbacks. Gallic comedies often just trail off, but this one boasts a nicely calibrated punchline.