A sexy, humorous and wonderfully specific “what to expect when you’re expecting” opus told with all the tricks of populist French cinema, Remi Bezancon’s “A Happy Event” should deliver healthy returns across Europe and French-speaking territories, but lacks the highbrow edge to attract a U.S. release. So much the pity, since Bezancon is that rare French helmer whose abilities exceed those of many Hollywood comedy directors, and yet, the Stateside auds who might appreciate his inventive approach simply won’t sit for subtitles. Arthouse crowds, by contrast, would have little patience for the sort of movie more consistent with megaplex tastes.
Adapted from French philosopher Eliette Abecassis’ novel “Un heureux evenement,” this stylish contempo drama addresses a subject so universal as to appear mundane, tracking an attractive couple’s path from initial courtship to the strain that raising their first child puts on their relationship. But just because a thousand movies have examined parenthood before doesn’t mean that there’s not fresh insight to be gained from the experience, as demonstrated by current French box office sensation (and Oscar submission) “Declaration of War,” to which this bears a satisfying resemblance.
Bezancon, who so astutely chronicled joy and pain across three generations of a French family in “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life,” sacrifices the richness of that experience somewhat by narrowing his focus to two lovebirds, Barbara (Louise Bourgoin) and Nicholas (Pio Marmai). She’s a graduate student struggling to complete her thesis; he works at a videostore (which makes for a cute courtship through movie titles). They don’t seem like the sort of couple that would last, and yet, casting such desirable leads ensures the passionate chemistry they feel for one another extends to the audience as well.
More than a decade after directors such as Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Jaco Van Dormael innovated techniques to dynamically reinvigorate the style of slice-of-life Euro comedy, “Event” suggests where these tricks have settled when used in a slightly less self-conscious way. In this context, there’s nothing particularly jarring about cutting to a closeup of the couple’s unborn fetus or using narration to shuttle along the pic’s timeline.
The baby is Barbara’s idea, though she hasn’t really considered how radically its arrival will change her life. At first it brings the couple closer, as they share all those landmarks that await all parents: breaking the news to a disapproving mother, going in for a sonogram, feeling the little one kick inside its mother’s belly. But the stress also takes its toll, and “Event” candidly engages with aspects frequently omitted from the cinematic depiction of pregnancy, such as how they cope with the “hormonal hurricane” that leaves Barbara craving sex and resenting her b.f.
By embracing a comedic tone throughout, Bezancon takes the edge off the break-up that seems to be looming on the horizon, while also providing the kind of unique details that distinguish pic from other stories of its kind. This spirit is captured early on in a scene where Nicholas cuddles up with Barbara to watch “Star Trek,” feeling as if the show’s opening narration — “to boldly go where no man has gone before” — speaks directly to him. Of course, many men have been down this road, and yet “Event” manages to capture it through fresh eyes.