Making the Case for ‘Populaire,’ One Keystroke at a Time

By  · Published on September 20th, 2013

We get it – you have options at the movie theater. A quick glance over at BoxOfficeMojo reveals that there are about fifty movies in theaters right now, and while they’re perhaps not all conveniently showing near you, fifty is a big enough number to ensure that most moviegoers have plenty to pick from. With the release of a string of new films today, from Battle of the Year to Prisoners to Rush (in limited release) to Sundance hit C.O.G., all the way down to Wednesday’s release of the very charming Enough Said, it’s obvious that audiences aren’t strapped for choices when they head out to the multiplex.

Which is why it might see strange that this space will now be used to encourage you to go see a limited release, fifties-set French film about speed typing competitions that is so strapped for recognizable stars (at least in the U.S.) that it’s been forced to tout the supporting work of The Artist’s Berenice Bejo, simply to encourage people that it features people they recognize (even just a little bit). But Regis Roinsard’s Populaire is so thoroughly charming, so delightfully sweet, and so often very funny that it deserves any attention it can get. Not sold yet? What if we told you that, despite all its silly-sounding trappings, it’s really just a tried-and-true romantic comedy at its heart. You miss rom-coms, don’t you?

Here’s the case for Populaire – mere days before I set off for the Toronto International Film Festival, home to hundreds of films and a bevy of surefire Oscar nominees, I sat for a screening of Populaire. Yes, I balked at its plotline – it’s about speed typing competitions? Was that a real thing? (Yes, it is and yes, they were.) The film is, however, almost instantly charming. It’s fizzy and fluffy and funny, a true cinematic confection, and just so damn adorable that thinking about it can’t help but make me smile. Even at TIFF, where my first film was about child abduction (Prisoners) and my last was about a solo journey featuring animal peril (Tracks), I would reflect on Populaire and smile. It may actually give viewers cavities, it’s so sugary, but as we enter the very heavy side of Oscar bait movies, it’s important to get a little sweetness into our moviegoing diet.

The film centers on country gal Rose Pamphyle (Deborah Francois), who doesn’t dream of anything too outlandish – she just wants to leave her little village for a midsized city where she can get a job as a secretary. Frightfully good at typing (even if she employs the hunt and peck method in a big way), Rose is convinced her singular skill will carry her far (or, at least, far enough). Eventually hired to assist insurance man Louis (Romain Duris, meet your romantic foil now), Rose is a total disaster at any office work that doesn’t include fast typing – she loses files, she forgets appointments, she can’t organize a damn thing – and it’s only the possibility that she can win a speed typing competition for her very competitive boss that keeps her employed.

Yes, it gets a bit Pygmalion-y here. Louis eventually moves Rose into his house and trains her up to become the very best speed typist she can be. He’s brutal with her exercises, but the results are stellar, and soon Rose is on her way to speed typing glory (again, yes, this is a real thing). But is Rose doing her very best for love of typing or for love of, you guessed it, Louis? Romantic entanglements fly, misunderstandings take hold, someone even gets slapped, but Populaire remains ever-entertaining and sweet. Despite its wacky plotline, it’s very much a traditional rom-com, and so adept at navigating the genre that you won’t even mind the subtitles (did I fail to mention it’s subtitled?). Oh, also, if speed typing sounds boring, you’ll be shocked at how athletic, vital, and exciting Populaire makes it all seem. It’s basically a sports film folded into a rom-com. (Yes, this sounds insane.)

The point is – I love this movie. It’s the most charming thing I’ve seen all year, and it would be wonderful if more people took a chance on it before we all have to buckle down into the deep darkness of Oscar bait contenders. Consider it cinematic dessert.

Populaire is currently in limited release.