French Film Has a Bigger Chill in ‘Little White Lies’

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CHICAGO – The landmark ensemble film “The Big Chill” (1983) featured seven former college friends reuniting for the funeral of one of their own. The French film “Little White Lies” takes that concept a step further, as friends go on a yearly retreat without one of their own, because he is in the hospital. Francois Cluzet, Marion Cotillard and Jean Dujardin co-star.

Cotillard (“The Dark Knight Rises”) and Dujardin (“The Artist”) have broken through to American audiences recently, so this 2010 film is ripe for a stateside release. Set at a seaside resort, the ensemble interact, argue, get drunk, make love and wonder where all the relationships are going in this absorbing and revealingly cultural view on French friendship. Real emotions go much deeper here, and honest reactions seem more prevalent with this group of “Big Chillers.” It’s not fair to compare the two films nearly 30 years after the first BC, but in this film the exploration of friendship seems a bit more reflective and mature.

Ludo (Jean Dujardin) is introduced as a party guy, flitting through a Paris nightclub and interacting with virtually everyone. He goes home on his scooter as the light of day is appearing, and he is hit head-on by a truck. He ends up comatose in an intensive care unit right before an annual vacation with his friends, and they gather around the bedside for a vigil. Max (Francois Cluzet) is the ringleader, and Marie (Marion Cotillard) is the earth mother to them all. The gang decide to go on the annual retreat, and Ludo is left to the hospital’s care.

Laurent Lafitte, Gilles Lellouce, Marion Cotillard’
Eric (Laurent Lafitte, left), Antoine (Gilles Lellouce) and Marie (Marion Cotillard) Kick it in ‘Little White Lies’”
Photo credit: MPI Media

The open wound that Ludo’s injury causes an imbalance to the getaway. Vincent (Benoit Magimel) makes a confession to Max, which rips their relationship virtually apart. Max himself is distracted by the news, and stars the holiday with anger at the resort house, which he owns. Marie is trying to bring balance to her chaotic life, and takes up with Antoine (Gilles Lellouce), who is having relationship troubles of his own. And Eric (Laurent Lafitte) is in pursuit of an ex-lover named Léa (Louise Monot), who is engaged to another man. “In a cold world, you need your friends to keep you warm,” or “How much love, sex, fun and friendship can a person take?”

The parallel to “The Big Chill” is obvious (the quotes above are taglines from that film), except the missing friend is not dead, and the friends gather annually rather than reuniting for a funeral. But the the missing element is ever present, and in both films the ghost of the lost friend influences the actions of their other comrades. “Little White Lies” refers to the small untruths told, so in a sense, everybody gets along. Those lies are exposed when emotions run high, all in the name of the friend that couldn’t be there. It is a steep ramp in which to fly towards dramatic confrontation.

Three of the cast members are the current Mount Rushmore of French actors. Besides Cotillard and Dujardin, Francois Cluzet has been on a hot streak with recognizable parts in crossover hits “The Intouchables” and “Tell No One.” The whole cast is top drawer, fulfilling the curiosity of how the French interact and seeming natural as old friends who call out each other’s motives. Benoit Magimel is particularly engaged, having the difficult task of telling Max the truth and then having to live with it throughout the holiday. Cluzet and he fence masterfully through these emotions.

Marion Cotillard, whose international career has skyrocketed in the last five years, is again bewitching as Marie. This is an artist that was made for the camera, every eye lift and body-in-motion embracing her character. All the women in the film get equal opportunity in the ensemble, often playing sensible peacemakers between the ram butting of the men. Valérie Bonneton, as Max’s wife, knows how to handle her volatile husband by not reacting strongly when he is off the rails, but taking no guff. It all was so naturally presented.

Marion Cotillard, Francois Cluzet’
Marie confronts Max (Francois Cluzet) in ‘Little White Lies’”
Photo credit: MPI Media

Writer and director Guillaume Canet formulates the action in “The Big Chill” style with a similar – yet emotionally different – music soundtrack. The big confrontation in the film is a series of build-ups that leaves everyone burnt down, which only serves to bring them together when they meet after the holiday. LIke any group dynamic that runs on the steam of emotional intensity, confrontation serves as a release valve. Afterward the machine is either broken, or runs better. Canet was looking for the better running engine with this ensemble.

One more tagline from “The Big Chill.” “The story of old friends searching for something they lost, and finding all that they needed was each other.” If there is a need to tell “Little White Lies” along the way, the truth on the other side might just be the answer to that need for each other.

“Little White Lies” has a limited release, including Chicago, on August 31st. See local listings for theaters and show times. Featuring Francois Cluzet, Marion Cotillard, Jean Dujardin, Laurent Lafitte, Pascale Arbillot and Joel Dupuch. Written and directed by Guillaume Canet. Not rated.

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Senior Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2012 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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