Title: Les petits mouchoirs (Little White Lies)Comment (SPOILERS ALERT): Les petits mouchoirs (Little white lies; Canet, 2010) made its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival to much chaos: the initial program ran into the second subtitling problem I encountered at the festival, much to the cast-on-hand's dismay. Canet, invoking the film's friendship theme, persuaded his captive audience into forgiving the technical difficulties that led to hours of waiting in line for the film. While the audience ultimately was soothed by the film's character charms, the dramedy, like the screening schedule, depended too much on the audience's good will and ran on way longer than it should have.
Director: Guillaume Canet
Critical Reception: TIFF 2010 entry
Psych Index: Homosexuality, Intimate, Family Relations
In Brief: The story centered around a tightly knit group of well-to-do but troubled friends shaken by an accident befalling one of its members. The actors fully inhibited the picture, creating an aura of warmth and sentiments while trying to keep their darker corners in check. At times, the director (and writer) gave into personal indulgence and made the film overly sentimental (and long) when it did not need to be. Nevertheless, Lies was a sweet little film about friendship and, though the director thought differently, the little white lies that greased it along the way.
The gently told story centered around a tightly knit, mostly thirty something group of friends attempting to get on with their pre-planned vacation - and their life - at a beach-side cabin owned by its eldest member, Max (Francois Cluzet), after an accident that left one of their own (Jean Dujardin) in a life-threatening condition. Their friendships were tested by secrets and the revelations thereof, the most severe (and effectively handled) of which was Vincent's (Benoit Magimel) confessed feelings for the tightly wound and possibly homophobic Max. Other characters struggled with their own heartache, blinded by self interests and deceptions, until the weight of their drama, like Max's little weasels, broke their wall (Max literally did that in a fit of rage, as obvious a metaphor as it comes). Lies may be necessary at times, but as these characters found out, there comes a time when the consequences of living a white lie get a little too costly (perhaps a slight commentary on the closeted homosexuals out there). And it was practically impossible to contain consequences once personal lies become shared secrets.
Canet did not shy away from courting the English-speaking audience looking for a little crowd-pleasing foreign title to feel good about: he scored his entire film with well known English songs at opportune times. It was perhaps not surprising that he chose the English-subtitled screening for his Q&A when given the choice to speak at length with either a French audience or an English-speaking one. Unfortunately, his ambition - or, as he confessed at the Q&A, his affinity for songs in the English language - detracted from the cast's terrific ensemble work. Having a character (Marie's musician boyfriend) belting out a couple of English songs on the acoustic guitar for his French-speaking group of friends rendered a rather delicate moment false and trying.
While the script fell apart in the maudlin final act, the film as a whole was lifted by the strength of its well-observed characters. There was a sense of a natural, easy camaraderie that helped burrow the group in the audience's emotional space. They had the sort of friendship that people could fantasize about - having intimate connections with really attractive people, aided by a touch of drama and deception, well within the safe confines of ready forgiveness. Despite the obvious privileges that threatened to distant much of the group from the sympathetic viewers, their genuine portrayal humanized their struggle and saved the film from being completely swallowed by wishful sentiments. Canet may have written the film as a love letter to his friends, but as confessional cinema, it felt a little too wanting to truly convey the depth of its universal theme.