Gérald Hustache-Mathieu, France, 2011, 102 mins, 2.35:1
Jean-Paul Rouve, Sophie Quinton, Guillaume Gouix, Olivier Rabourdin, Clara Ponsot, Arsinée Khanjian, Eric Ruf, Lyès Salem, Joséphine de Meaux
French Theatrical Release: 12 January 2011, Diaphana
Review by Noel Megahey
Gérald Hustache-Mathieu’s latest feature lives up to the promise shown in his earlier work (his debut film Avril along with one of his prior short films was released on DVD in the UK by Peccadillo Pictures and reviewed by myself for DVD Times here). Poupoupidou expands on the unique characteristics that make his work stand-out from other French filmmakers while at the same time managing to make it more accessible. Rather ambitiously, Poupoupidou manages to create an analogy of the life of Marilyn Monroe while at the same time keeping the film firmly anchored in its French roots, making it also into a fascinating murder-mystery.
Sophie Quinton – the muse of all Hustache-Mathieu’s work so far – is also the heart and soul of Poupoupidou. She plays Candice Lecoeur, a minor home celebrity in the Rhone-Alps region who brings glamour to a local brand of cheese called Belle du Jura. Already dead at the start of the film (as in any good noir), an apparent suicide, her body is discovered lying in the snow in the no-man’s land area on the French/Swiss border with a bottle of pills in her hand. Her death inspires detective-thriller novelist David Rousseau (Jean-Paul Rouve), who has just arrived in the region after receiving an inheritance, to tell her story in his latest novel. Reading through her diaries, David discovers that the young woman’s life parallels that of Marilyn Monroe in many ways, from her humble country-girl origins through her discovery and a photo-shoot that leads to a make-over and her reinvention as Candice Lecoeur. And it’s not just her origins and her look – her subsequent life and her troubled marriages also seem to set the young woman on the road that we know will lead to her early death.
The closer he investigates however, the more David is certain that her death wasn’t a suicide. He engages a young border guard to help make further enquiries – one of a number of detailed and colourful secondary characters – but is he letting himself get carried away by his novelistic imagination and his detective aspirations, and conflating the fate of Marilyn with that of Candice, in danger of coming to unrealistic conclusions? Or conversely, could the truth behind Candice’s story also tell us something about the circumstances in which Marilyn ended her life?
That’s an intriguing premise, but one it’s hard to see working without it falling into some kind of parody. Hustache-Mathieu – capably and sympathetically supported by two terrific performances from Quinton and Rouve – is however able to see the humour within the story’s ambiguity and within a setting that is far from the usual slick American crime-thrillers. Nevertheless, he is able also to exploit this setting to illuminate the nature of smalltown politics and smalltown hopes and dreams, which are no less ambitious or as ruthless than anywhere else, finding commonality between two characters who live under pseudonyms and lack the courage to be loved for who they really are. And in that respect, the film also manages to be a touching tribute to Marilyn Monroe, a woman who just wanted to be loved by you, …just you, …pou-pou-pidou.