2/29/2012

Hunting And Gathering

Spirited sniping between the two leads adds a dash of vitality to this French romp from veteran director Claude Berri.
Audrey Tautou and Guillaume Canet in 
Hunting And Gathering.Audrey Tautou and Guillaume Canet in Hunting And Gathering.
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To many people, Audrey Tautou will be forever Amelie, a character they either loved or loathed. More moderate responses are as rare as current films about French political life. These days, romantic comedies rule and if you're among Tautou's fans, this isn't a bad one. For me, her appeal lies in the fact that there's a hint of irascibility lurking behind the sweet face and the impish manner, and in Hunting And Gathering, she gets a chance to give it a workout.
Camille is just getting by in Paris on a wage earned as an office cleaner - or "surface engineer", as she describes this vocation to her doctor in the mordantly funny exchange that opens the film. She hardly eats but that's a decision made from choice. It's as if the wearying business of getting herself out of bed in the morning has sapped her appetite.

For fun, she draws - a talent that could probably find her more lucrative work. Nonetheless, she enjoys being with her fellow technicians and in her cleaning job, she reasons, she has little chance of turning into a copy of her mother, who idles away her days thinking up things to complain about.
It's an honourable life she leads but a lonely one. Things start looking up, however, after she meets her neighbour, Philibert (Laurent Stocker), a fey, gentle character who shares his cavernous apartment with Franck (Guillaume Canet), a hard-working chef with a volatile temper who likes his music loud and his women even louder. Predictably enough, he and Camille start by detesting one another. At first sight, from across the room, he mistakes her for a boy and she sums him up as a lout. Clearly, the stage is set for them to fall in love.
In less assured hands, Franck, in fact, would be close to being unbearable but Canet, who's also a director ( Tell No One), is an engaging actor with a directness suggesting that he walked straight off the street and on to the set. His is one of those broad, trustworthy faces with a strong nose and a gaze that can accommodate humour and melancholy at the same time. It gives him a hangdog charm that makes him surprisingly gentle company when he's in the right mood and, as he and Camille gradually get comfortable with one another, he's in the right mood for much of the time.
She finally wins him over when she befriends his fiercely independent grandmother, Paulette (Francoise Bertin), who brought him up. Franck's fondness for Paulette is his redeeming feature and when a fall lands her in hospital, he's distraught, a condition that does nothing to improve his temper.

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