Louis, distraught over a failed relationship, stands under a tree in a park in Paris, ready to kick away the suitcase hes standing on and hang from a noose around his neck. From this bleak depiction of suicidal depression springs one of the funniest scenes in Après Vous, a quirky and delightful French import.
With most of the trappings of a classic farce save for its sluggish, sometimes labored, pace Après Vous is a slight but witty film filled with miscues, mishaps and mirth.
Anything starring the incomparable Daniel Auteuil (Jean de Florette, Un Coeur en Hiver) is at least worth a viewing; and although this is hardly his most memorable picture, he doesnt disappoint. Auteuil has become one of Frances leading dramatic actors, though he did comedies in his early career. Hes renowned for his depictions of troubled, conflicted men, a theme that continues in Après Vous, but here his circumstances are bizarre, unlikely and often hilarious.
Auteuil plays Antoine, a successful headwaiter with an inability to say no, which gets him into muddles. Antoines first conflicts come when he stumbles upon suicidal Louis (José Garcia) in what would be his darkest hour, and saves the poor lout. Antoine is already late for a dinner date with his girlfriend, yet he doesnt want to leave Louis alone to his own fate, so he brings him home to join them. Antoine is inexplicably driven to help Louis, even though the sad sack seems utterly hopeless and Antoines own girlfriend is growing impatient with his devotion to the miserable stranger. Antoine then decides to secretly find and befriend Louis old flame, Blanche (Sandrine Kiberlain). He hopes to rehabilitate Louis and then reunite the couple so Louis can get on with his life. Only and heres the big farcical dilemma Antoine also falls for Blanche. So now the good-intentioned waiter is caught between his devotion to saving Louis and his budding romance with Blanche.
Auteuil is well-known for his more serious, straight-faced endeavors, but theres something about his smile, the way his eyebrows arch and his eyes light up, that wins you over recalling Dudley Moores clumsy sensitivity, yet with an air of the aw-shucks manner of Jimmy Stewart.
The film feels a little like a classic comedy, hitting a range of dark laughs and light slapstick with just a touch of romance. Still, by the third and final act were all quite ready to wrap up all the fumbling to correct earlier folly and see our hero off to his obvious conclusion. But its the storys delivery, with all of Auteiuls appeal, that makes Après Vous so pleasing.
In French with English subtitles. Showing at the Birmingham 8 (211 S. Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-644-3456).
Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].
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