* * * 1/2 (out of five)
For my money, the French are the best in the world at a certain kind of contemporary dramatic comedy. These breezy, elegant films usually feature an ensemble of naturalistic performers, often in a truncated time frame – a year, a summer, a week – as they navigate work and love. Examples are too many to mention and too abundantly good to choose from.
C’est La Vie fits right in to this established micro-genre, and spins all the dials with professionalism and occasional aplomb. Already hugely celebrated at home – it was nominated for ten César Awards this year, and made around twenty-four million bucks at the French box office (that’s more than Dunkirk or Thor: Ragnarok, and slightly less than Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2) – it goes down easy as these films should, chock full of engaging characters, gentle humour and a lot of heart.
Our work environment is the travelling-circus world of high-end professional catering, in this case, for a wedding at a 17th Century palace outside of Paris. Max (Jean-Pierre Bacri, whom the camera follows mercilessly throughout the film) owns the catering company and oversees its entire operation, constantly moving from cooking station to wedding tent, bandstand to dressing area. He is a perfect, perhaps idealised, French boss, kind, intelligent, perceptive, compassionate, and having an affair with one of his employees. His constant refrain when dealing with the thousand and one problems that pop up over the course of the event, “Nous ajustons!” – “We adjust!” – is rational and a great way to run a business, perhaps a life. But today – bien sûr – everything is going to go just a little bit more awry, and Max will find his own patience tried to its limit, perhaps its breaking point.
So that’s it, really – a catering company prepares for a wedding under the eye of its lovely boss – but we didn’t come for the plot, we came for the characters, and they’re mostly a delight, as they wrestle with their own small frustrations, obstacles and – bien sûr – romances. The groom’s a bit of a dick, the palace doesn’t have a great power supply, the photographer’s eating the hors d’oeuvres… there’s plenty to keep the wheels spinning, and the palace and grounds look gorgeous all day and into the night. Some of the later set-pieces, once the place is all lit up, are stunningly beautiful, and may send you right out in search of a bistro, some Bordeaux, and a little idylle yourself. Like a superb canapé, C’est La Vie is light and tasty, and will put you in a very good mood.