A Farcical French Delight

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By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 17, 2005

"APRES VOUS," a French romantic farce starring Daniel Auteuil, is a pleasurable throwback to the old Gallic capers of the 1970s. In those comedies, such as "The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe," which starred Pierre Richard, a lovable buffoon usually got caught up in convoluted circumstances. But thanks to childlike innocence and dumb luck, he'd somehow end up triumphant and get the girl.

"Apres Vous" has the same capricious spirit, centered on the sweet, hapless Antoine (Auteuil), a headwaiter at a Paris brasserie, whose long hours and inability to say no cut into his time with his girlfriend, Christine (Maryline Canto).

Walking home one night through the park, Antoine sees a stranger about to hang himself. He stops the suicide attempt. But instead of saving a man's life and moving on, Antoine realizes he has unwittingly signed up to solve the man's life problems.

Louis (Jose Garcia) is despondent because Blanche (Sandrine Kiberlain), a florist, has dumped him. He has no life, no job and no love. And now that Antoine has kept Louis among the living, well, he has a certain responsibility. At least Antoine thinks so.

He starts out by putting Louis up in his apartment, which doesn't sit well with Christine. Then, Antoine figures, he should help Louis get back together with Blanche by getting him a good job. That way, Louis's newfound confidence, not to mention money, will impress her. Behind his boss's back, Antoine trains Louis as a restaurant wine consultant. Then he instructs Louis to apply for the job, pretending not to know Antoine when he comes for the interview. (Only in a farce would anyone mount a plan so complicated.)

Louis gets the job, but things don't go well. The new hire is so morose and distracted he's actually causing clients to leave. And there is the matter of Blanche. Not only did the florist dump Louis for her own reasons, she is dating someone else. Antoine has a mountain to climb, not only to help Louis but to get his own life back. But is Antoine playing good Samaritan for reasons other than goodwill? As he gets more deeply enmeshed in Louis's problems, which involves posing as a customer at Blanche's flower shop, the question becomes even more pressing.

Auteuil, who has been a wonderful grace note in French cinema for 30 years, effortlessly controls this movie. He has such an easy affinity for comedy with a slight aversion of the eyes here, a momentary hesitation in the voice there. There isn't much to the movie, and you can see where it's going from kilometers away. But Auteuil gives the silliness a surprising heft. As Antoine, he's a long-suffering mensch beset by a certain inability to stand up for himself. Never was a milquetoast so charming. Garcia makes a nice partner, too, a comically depressed mope who steadfastly refuses to accept happiness. Together, they inject funniness and freshness into that overused term, "buddy comedy." And I guess it's hardly leaking in-house CIA memos to tell you things might just turn out well for Antoine's lonely situation after all.

APRES VOUS (R, 110 minutes) -- Contains sexual situations and some obscenity. In French with subtitles. Area theaters.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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