Affectionately and gently playing with romantic genre conventions, director and co-writer Régis Roinsard keeps the dialogue clever and the pace lively as 21-year-old Rose escapes from her lackluster village to Lisieux, Normandy. Typing lickety split with two fingers, she impresses insurance agent Louis sufficiently to get hired as his secretary. It's 1958, Louis hasn't lived up to his athletic promise, and so he channels his competitive drive onto Rose, training her, determined not just to participate but to win.
Rose has fled one possible husband that her widower father had picked, but her liaison with Louis seems destined for nothing more than a professional relationship. He's nursing memories of the Resistance in WWII and the love of his best friend's wife to whom he could not commit when he had the chance. Rose explains that she likes typing because it keeps her from thinking, considering herself too weird to love, someone, as she says, that only her mother saw as like everyone else.
With this setup, "Populaire" explores the romance that will predictably but with difficulty blossom, the film's colors becoming increasingly brighter as emotions deepen. The local, national, and international competitions are edited with appropriate speed and amusing face offs, with cheering fans and humorless referees. As Rose, Déborah François brings a sweet Sandra Dee look (it is the 1950s) to her nimble performance. As boss Louis, Romain Duris maintains a look of bemused observation, holding himself at arm's length literally and figuratively. Bérénice Bejo as friend Marie steals her scenes with the natural charisma she showed in "The Artist."
Too long at just under two hours, nevertheless "Populaire" (the title appropriately comes from a typewriter company) is a sweet French bonbon, a taste of "Mad Men's" artistic world without the angst. In French with English subtitles. At a Landmark Theatre.