Re:View – ‘Agathe Clery’

The Arts

Okay, from time to time I like to draw your attention to movies you might not have seen, and this one has been, frankly, a bugger to find. There are only three reviews online and none in English.

Why so difficult?

A hit in France and a very funny film from the director of ‘Tatie Danielle’, it’s shot in a defiantly stylised manner. Agathe is successful, tough, white and a subtle racist, in that modern, largely unspoken way people have of making their feelings felt in offices. When she succumbs to Addison’s Disease, her pigmentation starts to darken, and she’s faced with all of her most horrible prejudices.

Very quickly, she loses everything she holds dear, and all the skin lightener in the world isn’t going to change her new look. Agathe’s only way out to to co-opt her prejudiced best friend and her racist parents into a plan to win back her life. And change her attitude.

Making jokes about foreigners is a very tricky thing (although when done well you get hits like the hilarious ‘Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis’) but the film wears a lovely liberal heart on its sleeve and is a joy from start to finish. Did I mention that it’s also has several musical numbers, including a Michael Jackson parody? Or that the wonderful Jean Rochefort finally gets to dance?

Typically, Pathe, who couldn’t find an audience with an electron microscope and mint surgical tweezers, didn’t even bother to release the film here, and the only copy I could find with subtitles is available from Dubai (along with a lot of world cinema we never get to see). Here’s the specially shot teaser (not in the film). Sadly, I can’t find the big dance number featuring hundreds of commuters alighting from Eurostar…

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7 comments on “Re:View – ‘Agathe Clery’”

  1. Oh.

    I found it beyond dire, an enormous disappointment. The musical numbers are great fun, Valérie Lemercier is brilliant as Michael Jackson and… that’s it. The plot is dull and so basic and naive it’s painful. Liberal heart on its sleeve would be fine, if there was a little wit in the plot. There isn’t. Here’s it’s straight from plot point to plot point, what little there is of them. Racist goes black: finds about racism, but finds blacks can be racist too. Dialogue is poor, jokes are few and far between.

    As for being a hit in France: trust me, it wasn’t. It sank without a ripple. I saw it on French TV, where it was broadcast in a discrete time slot due to its poor performance at the box office. Actually, the promotion before the movie came out carefully omitted the fact that it was a musical, probably fearing it might endanger the appeal. Ironically, these are, by far, the best bits of a wreck of a movie, hailing back to Chatilliez’s series of ads for Eram shoes, which made him famous over here in the 80’s.

    YMMV!

  2. admin says:

    Actually I checked the box office and it made 21 million, which is considered a hit, but let’s not quibble. I loved it, just as I’ve liked all his other films, but I have a high cheese-factpr toleration. Mind you, I also liked ‘Tais-toi’ so what do I know? All rom-coms have simple ideas – although few as non-existent as ‘Tamara Drewe’ – but perhaps I’m overly generous with French and Belgian films – did you see/ like ‘Mr Nobody’?

  3. I’m a bit puzzled, because 21 millions euros would mean it attracted a good million people in the movie theatres at the times, which is indeed quite a success, and this is not how I remember it: I remember it being greeted by bad reviews, then sinking without a trace. And it was shown on TV in 2009 on New Year’s Eve, which, together with Christmas Eve, is the slot for movies nobody is going to watch, because everybody is too busy celebrating and banqueting (this year, the appalling Cinéman was the deserving winner — I thought a movie couldn’t be as bad as people said it was, and wanted to see how wrong they were; they weren’t).

    I just went and checked the IMDB, and those 21 millions? It’s not the take at the box office, it’s the budget! Which makes quite a difference and seems more likely to me. Chatilliez is OK (though his movies have been decreasingly successful, IMHO) and I love Valérie Lemercier, who is a brillant funny woman, and I concur that the musical numbers were excellent. But the story wrapped around them goes way below the standards of usual rom-com, and I’m fairly tolerant with rom-coms! For instance, I was recently pleasantly surprised by The Proposal, which I watched in spite of Sandra Bullock (don’t like her). Totally standard fare, but the execution was lively enough. On the other hand, Ghosts of Girlfriends past was dreadful.

    I want to see Mr Nobody as Jaco Van Dormael is an interesting director (and Belgian films are more inventive and wilder than French ones, as a rule), but haven’t seen it yet.

  4. admin says:

    The Box Office was worldwide, and I got the figures from a pro industry site we use at work – although I agree it’s a bit coincidental that it should be the production cost. And I still love the film!
    Can you recommend any other good popular/ unusual/ action, comedy or musical French films?

  5. Off the top of my head, nothing. Recently saw Radu Mihaileanu’s Le Concert which I really enjoyed, but it’s a co-production, and a year-old one, at that, which you have probably seen. I’ll think about it and refer back, if anything jumps to mind.

    Recently, François Ozon’s Potiche has garnered good reviews, though I’ve always found Ozon a bit more flashy than deep. Poupoupidou by Gérald Hustache-Mathieu, with Jean-Paul Rouve and Sophie Quinton, is a movie that just came out to glowing reviews and seems to have an intriguing premise: a writer looking for inspiration in a murder in the coldest part of France: a girl who might be a Marilyn Monroe lookalike and whose suicide might be as suspicious as Monroe’s. It looks slightly off-beat.

    If the worldwide box office for Agathe Cléry is 21 millions, and the budget was the same, isn’t that just breaking even, at best?

  6. admin says:

    Thanks for the tips – I’ll check ’em out, and also Rien A Declarer ’cause I like Dany Boon.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    I don’t like box office take as a criterion because an increase in admission fee would sound like an increase in audience. They compare Gone with the Wind with Lawrence of Arabia, but the admission in the 30-40’s was much lower than in the 60’s. I suppose you could find some sort of factor you could apply to the numbers but that’s a lot of work. I wonder if there’s a way of figuring the percentage of potential audience a film drew because that’s the number you really want.

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