Guillaume Canet’s 2010 comedy drama (though perhaps more drama than comedy) Les Petite Mouchoirs (Little White Lies) follows a group of friends who decide to continue with their annual holiday plans despite one of their close friend’s critical condition in hospital after a near-fatal collision. To someone not particularly au fait with French cinema (for the time being that is) the only two actors I had heard of before in this large ensemble piece were Marion Cotilliard (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, Midnight in Paris etc) and Jean Dujardin (The Artist (review coming soon), The Monuments Men, The Wolf of Wall Street) and while the latter was barely in the film his presence was very crucial to the crux of the plot and the overall message of the film.
The opening of the film follows the coke (the drug not the beverage) fuelled Ludo (Dujardin’s character) as he manically parades around a Parisian nightclub screaming in people’s faces, stealing other people’s coke and kissing his friends date. However his mood quickly changes and he decides to leave the party, to different friends he weaves different white lies upon his exit from ‘I’ll be right back’, that he’s just going out ‘For a smoke’ to a simple and perhaps closer to the truth ‘I’m tired’. This scene reflects the title and sets the tone of the film perfectly as what follows is a barrage of Little White Lies between friends to keep each other sweet and to hide bitter truths for appearance sake. After Ludo leaves the club we follow him down the streets of Paris on a scooter as he wears a scarf and smokes (how very Parisian) the elongated tracking shots build up a sort of apprehensive tension that something bad is going to happen to the still slightly delirious Ludo, and lo and behold he is involved in a collision. This moment was expected but it still made me jump perhaps due to the fact that when it did happen it was so sudden and also that there was no non-diegetic music to soften the sound of the crashing vehicles which in turn added to the realism of the event.
The group of friends that the rest of the film focuses on gather at the hospital to visit Ludo: there is Max a stressed Hotelier and restaurateur and his wife Vèronique, Antoine a love sick man obsessed with his ex-girlfriend Juliette, Éric a small time actor who is closest to Ludo and Marie who also faces a break up, Isabelle and her husband Vincent who declares his love for Max awkwardly before they embark on the holiday (the consequences of which contributes to quite a lot of the humour of the film) and Marie a bi-sexual vagabond and previous lover of Ludo. In this scene, Canet cleverly keeps the camera on the reactions of Ludo’s friends for quite a while before revealing his state to the audience. This allows the viewer to focus on the effect his disposition has on them before we make a preconceived idea of how we would react ourselves. Moreover the fact that Marie who is clearly notoriously late for everything as told by Éric ‘pisses me off, she’s always late, pain in the arse’ was, in fact, the first person there speaks volumes about the character as a whole and that she may be one of the only genuinely likable people besides Ludo in the whole film as her concern for her close friend is massively contrasted with the character of Antoine who immediately starts asking his friends whether they’ve heard from his Ex-girlfriend Juliette (believe me this guy is probably one of the most annoying characters in a film I’ve ever watched).
Even after seeing their friend in such an awful state the group still decide to embark on their annual summer vacation (what?!). But perhaps as a consequence tensions rise, lies are told and secrets are kept and each character becomes a little uglier as their self-centered nature is revealed. A short scene later in the film where the characters watch old vacation videos featuring a healthy and happy Ludo it becomes apparent that he has left a massive void in the group as although they have had some fun on this current vacation they seemed so much more alive and joyful in the older recordings. This was a great moment to include as it just shows the nature and selfishness of people and how they value seeking self-gratification far more highly than true companionship and as a consequence they are left feeling empty and dissatisfied and as Jean-Louis (A friend they visit whenever on holiday) says towards the end of the film ‘You buy into each other’s lies, call yourselves friends? What’s friendship, leaving a pal in the hospital cos your holiday matters more?’ and this, in essence, is what the whole film is about which will leave you questioning your own friendships and the genuineness of these relationships you keep.
In conclusion, if you like relatively long films (running time 148 mins approx.) that act as character and sort of sociological studies and you don’t mind the subtitles (if you’re not a French speaker that is) then give Les Petite Mouchoirs a watch.
My reasoning for this rating is that some of the characters were unbearable (particularly Antoine) but intentionally so and I personally think Jean Dujardin was underused but again for a good reason as his character a genuinely funny, kind and compassionate man (albeit with a dark side) acted as a foil to the others with their selfish obnoxious behaviour.
Also, check out my other World Cinema Reviews!