The New Year is off to a promising start with Jérôme Cornuau’s romantic comedy Chic! starring veteran French actress Fanny Ardant in fine form. Cornuau, whose work is more often seen on television, has produced a smart, sassy film which manages to stay fresh and engaging despite the predictable storyline. French cinema is no stranger to using its formidable fashion industry as a backdrop to films (Yves Saint Laurent, Saint Laurent), but here Cornuau turns convention on its head. Whereas in reality woman are under-represented in the luxury fashion industy, Cornuau has a woman as the chief designer and the comedy arises from the efforts of her beleaguered staff to satisfy her every whim.
Ardant is the world famous designer Alice Ricosi who is unable to complete her latest collection after the breakup of a love affair. It’s up to Hélène Birk (Marina Hands), Alice’s assistant, to make sure Alice redisovers her inspiration and completes the job in hand. By chance Alice meets Julien (Eric Elmosnino), a rustic, landscape gardnerer, who Hélène has hired to work on her own garden. Alice quickly casts Julien in the role of muse and insists he stays by her side as she works on the collection. But Hélène has just fired Julien and he refuses play along with her plan to ensure Alice is once again the Queen of the catwalk.
Romantic comedies have their own formula and Chic!
is no exception. What separates the good from the bad is the chemistry, or lack of, between the two main characters. Cornuau has taken a chance in casting Elmosnino against type in the romantic lead. The actor bears more than a passing resemblance to the much revered French singer Serge Gainsbourg, a fact used to great effect in Joann Sfar’s award winning Gainsbourg: Vie Heroique (Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life)
. His lopsided grin, permanent five o’clock shadow and diishevelled air runs contrary to the good looks of the stereotypical leading man. But this is the attraction of opposites. Set against the sterile perfection of Hands’ Hélène, the couple are highly credible and amusing. Hands, the daughter of French actress Ludmila Mikael and British stage director Terry Hands, is best known to international audiences for Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
. She portrays Hélène as devious, immoral, ambitious, but there is also an underlying vulnerability which is the catalyst for the relationship with Julien. And a piece of inspired casting sees Laurent Stocker, a member of the renowned Comédie Française, in the role of Alan Bergam, Hélène’s diminutive, neurotic boss. One of the best scenes of the movie has Stocker leading a conga line of fashionistas and catwalk models as they wind between party guests at Hélène’s house. It’s a touch of the surreal which holds a mirror to a world already full of absurdity.
Overseeing all the mayhem is Ardant. At 65-years of age, she pulls off the role of vamp/seductress with great ease. Ardant has worked more regularly on short films or TV films in récent years and it’s to be hoped Chic heralds more frequent big screen appearances.