Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 20, 2017 8:52 am 
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A hectic blonde lawyer

Victoria, with the delicious and amusing Virginie Efira in the lead role and featuring Vincent Lacoste and Melvil Poupaud, is a distinctive modern French version of a Hollywood screwball comedy, and the second film of Justine Triet, whose debut was the tour-de-force The Age of Panic/La bataille de Solferino (Rendez-Vous 2014). Its lead character is Victoria Spick, a divorcee with two young daughters whose career as a trial lawyer is highly accomplished but whose personal life is a trainwreck. And this has been compared to the recent Judd Apatow/Amy Schumer vehicle of that name. While Efira's talents may not match Schumer's, she's got them; and she and the other leads contribute to the fun by freely improvising. The jazzed-up English "in bed" title misleads a bit. Victoria keeps arranging online hookups for herself at her apartment, but she never manages to be in the mood.

The movie is perhaps most hilarious at the outset, during a chaotic, also American style, wedding party, but the trial that's the action's main focus has its moments too, even when a Dalmatian and a chimp are introduced in the elegant red courtroom as witnesses. Vincent Lacoste (if memories of him in Julie Delpy's crude Lolo don't kill him for you) plays a charmingly silly yet sincere and helpful young man ripe to become this lighthearted film's love interest. Victoria got Sam Mallet (Lacoste) off a drug dealing charge; they meet up again at the wedding. Out of work (without the drugs) and in effect homeless, he wants to be her law trainee and, to solve his residential problem, act as her au pair babysitter. Later he wants to be her lover, and this affectionate and more sincere hookup may solve her midlife sex crisis.

Vincent (the ever-watchable Melvil Poupaud), a dear friend of Victoria's, does a song and dance number at the wedding, a wonderful quick mix of modesty, ease and charm. Good and drunk, he tries to have sex at the party with his nutty ex, with her pet Dalmatian watching disapprovingly. (We don't see this.) She then accuses him of stabbing her in the stomach. (He says she stabbed herself: we don't see this.) He is arrested, and he insists Victoria defend him (we see this). She protests that mixing the personal with her criminal defenses is a big mistake, but gives in. Scenes at her sublimely chaotic apartment (thanks to production designer Olivier Meidinger) show the amiable disorder of her home life. (The two girls are charmingly and sparingly used.) When her ex, David (Laurent Poitrenaux), turns up uninvited, he reveals that he's writing a blog now that's a big hit due to its thinly disguised details of her professional and personal peccadilloes, including sex with judges (back in the day when she was up for sex, evidently). This leads to another court case, since his revelations threaten her career. A narcissistic nincompoop, he conducts his own defense.

Vicky's periodic arranged assignations at home only lead to confusion or nerves. Once an abandoned session gives her a serious anxiety attack and Sam, experienced at helping clients through bad trips, coaches her back to calm. He administers a Xanax, and she dozes. Her sleeping beauty is what enamors Sam and makes him want to kiss her. Meanwhile she sees not only a (white male) "psy," a shrink, but a large black female psychic who card-reads her fortune, usually disapprovingly. This mélange, when shown in rapid succession, produces a quietly giddy state of amusement in the sympathetic viewer - who, however, may be surprised when Vicky is summoned before the bar council for talking to a witness in a case. It was a woman who came to her home and harassed her: she should have refused to speak. Despite a beautiful lawyer's pleading in her defense, she gets suspended, like Will Gardner (Josh Charles) in "The Good Wife," but for a lesser offense and only for six months.

This leads her to let Sam go, but the girls will miss him and he will be in the wings ready to return when her suspension ends - and Vincent begs her to take his case again now that an old girlfriend (Claire Burger) has appeared, inspired by word of his impending trial, to accuse him of harassment. She will take the case on, with little time to prepare, and Sam will be back to become her lover and law assistant as well as man slave. The trial will climax with its Dalmatian-chimp appearances and a favorable outcome for Vincent and Vicky. But despite all the action this movie, which is glossier but obviously less original than La bataille de Solferino, isn't so much notable for its plot drive as for its comic vignettes, like Victoria's failed at-home sex hookups, Poupaud's song and dance performance, the meetings with Sam, the shrink and card-reader sessions. Triet manages to be both over-the-top and tastefully French - and sexy, especially in one heavy makeout scene between Lacoste and Efira (who throughout play very well together). It is this mixture that, especially if you're a fan of French film comedy, will endear Victoria to you.

Victoria/In Bed with Victoria, 90 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2016 and opened in French cinemas 14 Sept. to great reviews (AlloCiné press 4.0) including a rare rave from Les Inrockuptibles and a favorable opinion from Cahiers du Cinéma. French critics more than once mentioned Woody Allen, and so does the American Jordan Mintzer of Hollywood Reporter, who locates Triet's comedy "somewhere between more femme-centric Woody Allen films like Alice or Another Woman and the work of French farce maven Louis de Funes." Shown at a dozen or so other festivals including Chicago and Vienna. Screened for this review as part of the 1-12 Mar. 2017 UniFrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center series The Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.
Saturday, March 4, 9:30pm (Q&A with Justine Triet)
Sunday, March 12, 3:30pm

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