Every year, a large group of friends vacation together in Lège-Cap-Ferret at the home of the wealthiest among them, Max Cantara (François Cluzet, "Tell No One," "The Intouchables"). When one of their own, Ludo (Jean Dujardin, "The Artist"), is in a horrific accident that lands him in intensive care, Marie (Marion Cotillard, "La Vie en Rose," "The Dark Knight Rises") thinks they should stay by his side, but the group reasons that they will be unable to help him in the immediate future, that Léa (Louise Monot, "OSS 117: Lost in Rio") will come a week later and that they will cut their stay short. These rationalizations are just the beginnings of a network of "Little White Lies."
Writer/director Guillaume Canet made quite a splash with his 2006 thriller "Tell No One," a film I felt was too busy to connect with. With "Little White Lies," he switches genres but sticks to the large ensemble with interwoven story lines. This one plays a bit like "The Big Chill" in reverse with Oscar winner Dujardin in the Kevin Costner role. It's too long and not all the stories work as well as others, but it does work as a series of shallow character studies coming together for a more in-depth group portrait.
The film begins with cinematographer Christophe Offenstein ("Tell No One," "Where Do We Go Now?") following the boisterous Ludo from finishing his blow in the men's room through a nightclub onto the streets of Paris at daybreak. Ludo gets on his scooter and the camera stays tight, daring us to wait for the crash. The next time we see Dujardin, he is literally unrecognizable, special effects makeup artists providing a cold bolt of reality. The friends gather at the hospital, paying visits in groups of four, then making their vacation call in the parking lot.
Before they leave a few more important relationship issues are presented. Vincent (Benoît Magimel, "The Piano Teacher," "The Girl Cut in Two") tells Max that he loves him, although he is not gay. Max reacts badly and the two agree not to speak of it. Léa's boyfriend Éric (Gilles Lellouche, "Tell No One," "Point Blank"), a bit of a hound, tries to set up a double date for himself and Antoine (Laurent Lafitte, "Tell No One"), who is pining over a breakup with Juliette (Anne Marivin, "Tell No One"), but Antoine leaves in disgust when the single woman who arrives suggests a threesome and Éric ditches when he gets a call from best bud Marie, the other group member with commitment issues (she used to be Ludo's girl). The stage is set for conflict.
What Canet does best is highlight recognizable bits of human behavior in each of his characters. Max is the passive aggressive benefactor, always annoyed with things - the state of the lawn, the weasels in his walls - and irritated by the way his largesse is received (his guests don't respect his desire to be out on the boat by 10 a.m., they go through the wine too quickly, etc.). The added stress of Vincent's confession makes a strain between the two obvious to all and Max acts out with Vincent's boy, his six-year-old godson Elliot (Néo Broca). Max's wife Véro (Valérie Bonneton, "Summer Hours") tries to buffer her husband's behavior until she herself has had enough.
Éric and Marie smoke pot, drink wine and confide in each other which Éric sees as a sexual invitation. He gets a wake-up call when he goes to pick up Léa and she dumps him. Marie goes through a string of men, sentimentalizes Ludo and romanticizes her 'calling' to the Amazon. When Franck (Maxim Nucci, "Tell No One") tracks her down, her friends all love him, but she's obviously uncomfortable and he perfectly articulates her problem. Meanwhile Vincent's wife Isabelle (Pascale Arbillot, "Let It Rain") is sexually frustrated and knows something's wrong, but not what. It will take a local, Jean-Louis (Joël Dupuch, "Tell No One"), the oyster farmer who introduced Max to the area as a boy, to point out this group's dysfunction. His final gesture is a bit of heavy handed symbolism to relink them.
The film goes on a bit long at 154 minutes, but it doesn't start to wear out its welcome until its last act. Canet's cast all feel like long time friends pulling the petty little power plays they're not even really aware of while also supporting and enjoying each other. The weak link is Antoine, who moons about asking everyone how to interpret communications from his ex - when they get back together it's hard to care. Wisely, Canet hints at future developments among his group without forcing anything except his abrupt and sappy ending.
The film has a beachy, bleached out look that makes it look like a relic of the 70's. That coincides with an out-of-date soundtrack that includes such numbers as 'Hang on Sloopy,' 'If I Were Your Woman' and 'Moonage Daydreams,' their literal lyrical content calling unwarranted attention.
Robin did not see this film.
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10 | Video
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