Review: Little White Lies (Les Petits Mouchoirs) (2010)

Director: Guillaume Canet

****

If you were planning to go on holiday with someone, and that person had an accident and couldn’t go, would you go ahead with it? When Ludo (Jean Dujardin) is caught in a violent traffic accident, his closest friends decide to go ahead with their annual pilgrimage to the coast, leaving him in an ICU ward. The characters in Les Petits Mouchoirs (Little White Lies) clearly have problems with their priorities, and these problems will come back to haunt them.

As is always the case in grand ensemble pieces, most everyone has issues. Max (François Cluzet), the owner of the house every one’s coming to stay in, despite owning a successful restaurant, has to deal with his overgrown lawn, weasels nesting in the walls and the romantic feelings of his married friend Vincent (Benoît Magimel). Max’s problems are probably the most unusual of the bunch, as the rest of the holidaymakers come with more familiar baggage. Max’s wife Véro (Valérie Bonneton) has to deal with his neuroses, whilst Éric (Gilles Lelouche), Marie (Marion Cotillard) and Antoine (Laurent Lafitte) are each having relationship difficulties. The spectre of Ludo’s accident hangs over the whole holiday and, as you can probably imagine, tempers and emotions get the better of certain guests as time passes. It’s essentially The Big Chill goes French, but writer/director Guillaume Canet brings enough Gallic wit and flair to proceedings to ensure it stands out. The film opens with Ludo’s accident, which takes place in a magnificent tracking shot. Canet’s camera is fluid and elegant, and the beaches of southwestern France look absolutely stunning. As for the script, Canet stirs in plenty of humour to leaven the potentially oppressive tone. A boating lesson goes horribly wrong, whilst those weasels drive Max to amusingly desperate measures.

The cast is a wonderful ensemble, with Magimel and Cotillard making the most impact with  emotionally ragged roles. Making monied, elegant types like these characters likeable, let alone identifiable, is trickier than it may seem, especially when they’re all lying either to someone else or to themselves, but Little White Lies is a reminder of the kinds of emotional frailties that unite us all. The third act is a tad melodramatic, and at least 20 minutes too long, but it doesn’t detract from the excellence that has come before. Little White Lies balances drama with joie de vivre to make a very grown-up French fancy.

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