A French dramedy that is both funny, heartfelt and, more than anything, honest.
The term dramedy is surely not one that translates into French. Arguably it is one that does not really exist in English, but the Anglo speaking people of the world appreciate its bitter sweet sensibility whereas it is hard to imagine the normally dour French grasping it. That is until you see Little White Lies. In many ways it is quintessentially French, with its serene setting, flowing wine and lavish romantic idealism, but it becomes abundantly clear that none of this is superficial and to add to the sheer brilliance of the film it instils enough humour and heart to allow the two hour plus running time to simply fly by.
Preparing for their annual beach holiday a group of Parisian friends find themselves with a moral dilemma; do they postpone their frivolities and stay in Paris to attend to friend Ludo (Dujardin), who has been hospitalised by a horrendous scooter accident, or do they set off and hope for the best? Deciding that there is little they can do for Ludo the group leave for restaurateur Max’s (Cluzet) beach house. Once there the group dynamics begin to show their true colours as Max goes into control freak mode, Marie (Cotillard) struggles with a plethora of mood swings and Vincent (Magimel) finds his friendship wit Max is not as solid as he once thought.
The opening few minutes of Little White Lies perfectly captures what you have in store. In a single take we witness Ludo traverse his way through a night club, partake in some causal drug taking, a bit of dancing, some jovial fun with a friend, a quick kiss with a clubbing beauty before getting on his scooter, the sun rising through Paris and being smashed into by a truck. Far from being hard hitting the film delicately touches on those moments in life that define us, impact others and shape our perception of the world.
It is a film so powerfully driven by interesting and believable characters that you experience all their emotions with them. As Max and Vincent eye each other warily across the table you feel the discomfort. As Marie, having been pulled behind a boat at speeds she is not happy with, lashes out at her male friends it is hard not to laugh along with them and witness her inexplicable rage.
There is warmth to the film, one that is not just emitted from the glorious sunshine of the French Rivera. Everyone on display is flawed but you find yourself routing for them all because of the vibrant energy they have as a collective. It is easy to see yourself being part of this group and thoroughly enjoying their company.
Writer, director Canet handles everything with the most deft of touches. He never lingers on any one story line for it to overbear the rest of the film. After his last, and brilliant, film Tell No One this is change of pace that is far more tranquil, allowing Canet to let his characters breath, like the fine wine they gulp down. If there is one negative it is his attempt to try and tie it altogether with the theme of ‘white lies’, which in the grand scheme of the story is unnecessary. Thankfully this only comes into effect in the final ten minutes, by which time you are so hopelessly adorned by the people populating the screen you would happily sit through their therapy sessions with them.
With such a solid ensemble cast it is hard to pick out certain performances. However, special mention should go to Cluzet, who was so captivating in Canet’s Tell No One. His eyes always allow a clear insight into the character’s true feelings. So much so that often, when he knows he has gone too far, which he frequently does, his eyes enlarge to such humorous effect you find yourself revelling in his misdemeanour. Cotillard, Canet’s off-screen partner, is always the most mesmerising screen presence and here finds a subtle level of emotions that shine from every pore. It is through her reactions that much of the film’s pathos is drawn.
Little White Lies, ironically, is a film that thrives as a result of its honesty. There is an authenticity and familiarity to the interactions that allow us to become part of the dynamic, revelling in the smallest of reactions from a collection of people we come to see as friends. The climatic crescendo will leave you weeping with a joyous smile firmly printed on your face, promise.