Un Peu, Beaucoup, Aveuglément directed by and starring the multi-talented Cornillac in the lead role was the deserving winner of the Audience award at last month’s COLCOA French film festival in Los Angeles. It’s a romantic comedy with a dark, distinctly Gallic flavour which has an old-fashioned feel while dealing with a distinctly modern theme – how modern technology is fundamentally changing the way individuals communicate. Fortunately Cornillac’s deft comic touch avoids rhetoric and the film is ultimately a delightful love story set to the stirring music of Chopin. Although there is nothing new in the basic ‘opposites attract’ plot line, Cornillac throws in an interesting mix of secondary characters and some whimsical set pieces which raise the film to a new level.
Machin (Cornillac) is a reclusive designer of intricate puzzles who needs absolute calm to concentrate on his creations. Machine (Mélanie Bernier) is his classical pianist neighbour who is living alone for the first time while preparing for a highly important classical piano competition. The wall separating their two apartments is paper-thin and both occupants stuggle to find a way of co-exisiting. They agree to a complicated system which allows them the time to continue with their individual lives and gradually through the connecting wall they begin to talk. Without ever setting eyes on each other, they decide to embark on a strictly non-physical relationship via the wall. Machin’s best friend Artus (Philippe Duquesne) and Machine’s sister Charlotte (Lilou Fogli) are skeptical at first, but come to the see the advantages of the relationship. The only question is whether verbal communication alone is enough to carry the relationship forward.
It’s an impressive first outing as director for Cornillac perhaps due to his close involvement with the project. He is director, one of the lead actors, co-writer and co-producer of the film which is based on an idea from his actress wife Fogli who plays Charlotte. It has a intimate, theatrical feel as most of the action takes place in the two apartments with a split screen effect created by the dividing wall. The wall is effectevely a screen behind which each character choses to hide. And while they are convinced their feelings for each other are genuine, the relationship is never tested in the outside world and is in reality a fantasy. Talking anonymously, texting, tweeting works up to a point, suggests Cornillac, but it cannot replace genuine human interaction with all its spontaneity and physical contact. The two ‘lovers’ never exchange real names with Machin and Machine roughly translated as Whatshisname and Whatshername – another indication that emotions are kept at a distance in much the same way as pseudonyms are used everywhere on the internet.
Cornillac does allow himself one direct rant about modern day etiquette when he berates diners in a crowded restaurant for eating with their mobile phones on the table. But he keeps it short and to the point before the comedy kicks in again. Cornillac is superb as the irrascible Machin, whose misanthropy is masking a personal tragedy. He is more than matched by Bernier whose transition from the uptight Machine with her tightly pulled back haïr and owlish glasses to a sexy, liberated young woman is a well worn film cliche, but hugely effective nontheless. Cornillac already has a long acting career behind him most notably for international audiences as Benoit Notre-Dame in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement. He was most recently on TV screens in France as a Chef in the award winning series of the same name. It’s to be hoped it won’t be too long before he sits in the director’s chair again.