A dingy apartment door is kicked in from the outside and a slick-looking detective bursts in brandishing a gun. Bullets fly, kicks are roundhoused, and the cop is put through an interior wall, resulting in his arms and fists fighting off one foe, while his flailing legs dispatch another in the next room over. This choppy, exaggerated melee is not the typical beginning to a film selected for Cannes, even one in the occasionally genre-friendly Directors’ Fortnight, and though it’s quickly revealed to be imaginary — a bedtime story told to a little boy grieving for his dead hero-cop father — the tone of merry lunacy sets the bar for Pierre Salvadori’s “The Trouble With You.”
The loopy plot follows Yvonne (Adèle Haenel), a police officer on desk duty who, two years after the death of her cop husband Santi (Vincent Elbaz) inadvertently discovers he was far from the crusading hero he’s literally memorialized as (an unveiling ceremony has just occurred for a comically awful statue of him in a local town square). In fact, Santi was deeply corrupt, a revelation reluctantly confirmed by Yvonne’s colleague and obvious torch-bearer Louis (Damien Bonnard). Santi took bribes to finance a lifestyle a mere cop’s wages never could have bought — the very funny montage of Yvonne suddenly registering that fact with a plosive “Putain!” in various rooms of her expensively appointed home is a good example of Salvadori taking narrative lemons (all these years this bright woman hadn’t noticed?) and making sparkling limonade.
But his corruption had a human cost: Santi had conspired with a high-end jewelry store to stage a robbery for the insurance, and had framed an innocent employee, Antoine (Pio Marmaï), for the theft. Antoine has spent eight years in prison and on his release, Yvonne tries to lessen her feelings of guilt by involving herself in his life under a variety of pretexts, none of them truthful. Her good intentions are complicated, however by the fact that she and the rumpled Antoine are attracted to each other, despite Louis finally declaring his ardor for Yvonne, and Antoine being married to Agnes (Audrey Tautou, in her third film with Salvadori after 2006’s “Priceless” and 2010’s “Beautiful Lies”), the rather underwritten oddball who has waited faithfully while he served out his unjust sentence.
This is a polished package, set in Julien Poupard’s warm-toned photography, and if some of the jokes fall flat, most land solidly, perhaps because they do not usually have a very specific target, or a particularly acerbic agenda. Really, “The Trouble With You” is mostly a sparkling showcase for the consummately versatile Haenel, who seems to have evolved from ingenue breakout in “Love at First Fight” to rising indie superstar in the Dardennes’ “The Unknown Girl” to seasoned professional capable of effortlessly classing up the joint while playing the widowed mother of a small boy, in the space of roughly a fortnight. Haenel’s role is a mercurial one, full of opportunities for Clouseau-esque following sequences, mistaken identity mixups, and bumbling acts of well-meaning quirk. But there’s something resolutely un-ditzy about the actress, with her matter-of-fact sexiness and earthy intelligence grounding even the screenplay’s most contrived moments. It is a pleasure to watch her face as she works things out.
The other chief virtue of this spritely, undemanding movie, that should certainly perform well at home even if the international prospects for foreign-language comedies are less assured, is the subtle contrast between Yvonne’s two equally viable potential romances. Antoine is a good guy who’s been given a touchy edge of menace by his time inside, and Marmaï’s unkempt, slightly dazed air of woundedness is a good fit for the character as he increasingly comes to believe that, having done the time, perhaps he should now commit the crime. And Bonnard’s Louis is a sweet portrait of the long-term piner whose affections are suddenly, and unexpectedly requited; unusually for this sort of film where there’s a sexy, dangerous option and a safe, reliable one for our heroine, she actually has more natural chemistry with the latter.
If it’s oddly gratifying to see the good guy finish first, it’s also par for the course in a film that likes all its characters so much that it insists on arranging things so no one ends up getting hurt. Except possibly the further victims of a mild-mannered local serial killer who, in one extended gag, keeps turning up to confess at the police station with increasingly numerous bags full of body parts, only to be ignored by a distracted and lovelorn Louis. “Better to be a bastard than a victim,” insists Antoine at one point, but it’s a philosophy with which the sweet, silly, resolutely non-bastard-ish “The Trouble With You” absolutely does not agree.