Paramount // 2003 // 110 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Russell Engebretson (Retired) // December 1st, 2005
A very tasty comedy with a little French twist...
Après Vous is an artfully crafted French romantic comedy with just a touch of drama to keep the viewer slightly in suspense. It's light, effervescent, and strikes a careful balance between sentiment and sentimentality.
Antoine (Daniel Auteuil, Girl on the Bridge), headwaiter at a small, upscale French restaurant, is already hours late for a dinner date with his longtime girlfriend. He takes a shortcut through the park and sees a man about to hang himself (precariously balanced on a suitcase with a garden hose looped about a tree branch and tied around his neck). After a brief struggle to keep the man aloft, Antoine saws through the hose with a pocketknife. It transpires that the would-be suicide, Louis (José Garcia), is less than grateful for his reprieve from death. Antoine, afraid that Louis may yet kill himself, offers him a place to stay for the night. Antoine, a soft-hearted and generous individual, decides to help Louis pick up the broken pieces of his life -- including reuniting him with the lover who jilted him. But his mission is complicated by Louis' quirks and emotional hysterics. Additionally, Antoine finds himself at loggerheads with his girlfriend over who is more important in his life; Antoine will soon have to make some hard choices.
Director Pierre Salvadori's Après Vous is sometimes a restaurant movie, and at other times an odd-couple comedy, but at its core it steadfastly remains a romantic comedy that manages not to cheapen either the humor or the romance.
The comedy ranges from light and sly to jubilant slapstick. As an example of the latter, Louis has a "fear of things falling on him -- a sort of vertigo in reverse." He also drinks heavily when he becomes nervous. The proprietor of Antoine's workplace is in need of a new sommelier, and Antoine convinces her -- much against her better judgment -- to hire Louis. On Louis' first work night, Antoine is forced to leave work due to an emergency and Louis is stricken with a panic attack; so, the stage is set for an accumulation of mishaps that lead to a near-disaster. The scene works as comedy because it is well-staged, but the viewer experiences some discomfort because of the underlying tension: What will happen to Louis before Antoine can return to the restaurant to take him in hand? Although this is a comedy, Louis is a realistic character -- with only slightly exaggerated personality traits for comic effect. Louis is more than a clownish buffoon; we don't want to see him humiliated in front of the customers or fired by his boss.
The actors are consistently excellent. From the melodrama of On Guard to the broad farce of The Closet, Daniel Auteuil -- a highly regarded actor in France -- has graced the screen in a variety of splendid roles. In his turn as Antoine, which allows him to deliver a quiet, realistic performance, he is so natural and shorn of affectation it is impossible not to like him. His girlfriend Christine (Marilyne Canto) is not a shrew -- as she likely would be portrayed in an American movie. She is an intelligent young woman who loves Antoine, but is beginning to suspect that his obsessive need to help Louis is in part a refusal to take their relationship to the next level, that is, marriage. She plays the part just right, creating sympathy for her role with not a touch of malice toward her lover. The character of Blanche Grimaldi (Sandrine Kiberlain, Cyrano de Bergerac) as Louis' ex-lover is a wonderful foil for Auteuil. She is just right as the sweet flower shop owner who has been unlucky in love too many times.
Part of the enjoyment in watching this movie is that the viewer doesn't know where the story is going, so I won't spoil the fun by giving away plot points. I was surprised and amused by some of the unforced twists -- all of which rise naturally out of the cause and effect of character interactions.
I should also mention that the R rating is only for language. There is a modest amount of cursing (the kind of spontaneous verbal ejaculations that are voiced when you stub your toe); otherwise, it's quite innocent -- no nudity, graphic sex, or violence.
It's easy to dispense with discussion of the extras: There are none, unless you count five trailers that run ten and a half minutes. Most of the dual-layer DVD is used, despite the lack of extras, so the movie's bitrate is high (about 8.5 megabits average). The high bitrate must have improved the picture quality; it's very good, with excellent color saturation, minimal grain, and no obvious artifacts. The sound is crisp and clear, and the dialogue -- solidly anchored in the center channel -- stays at an audible, unobtrusive volume. The rear channels are used sparingly but to good effect.
"Allo Papa Tango Charlie," the theme song arranged and sung by the film's composer Camille Bazbaz, plays over the opening credits and at the film's end. It's an enchanting, bouncy little tune that preps the viewer for what they're about to watch. In fact, the whole score creates a charming, pop dancehall ambience that helps to reinforce the movie's wistful comic style.
Complaint number one: This disc is marred by burned-in subtitles. They were a necessity on VHS tape, but it is simply slipshod to inflict the viewer with irremovable subtitles on a DVD, which also precludes any other language subtitles.
Complaint number two: The viewer is immediately subjected to an obnoxious anti-piracy clip, a blaringly loud, rude, and crude propaganda piece with all the finesse of Reefer Madness. Illegal downloads will of course be stripped of FBI warnings and other offensive material. The rest of us (who have bought or rented this DVD) will be subjected to these annoyances every time we watch the movie (yes, I know it's possible to skip the clip, but it is still mightily irritating).
There is a short scene in which Antoine finds a bookmark silhouette of Blanche in one of Louis' old books. He uses it to identify her by holding it up to the shadow she casts onto a frosted glass window. The payoff for this little bit of business, which is entirely forgotten by the time it appears, is in the final moment of the film. It's a great scene that encapsulates the simple and sweet decency of this movie. Après Vous is not for the sentimentally-challenged, but most people who like the romantic comedy genre will find much to enjoy in this film.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* English (burned in)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R