Little White Lies

Original title or aka: Les petits mouchoirs

Director: Guillaume Canet
Starring: Francois Cluzet, Marion Cottilard, Benoit Magimel, Giles Lellouche, Jean Dujardin
Distributor: Hopscotch Films
Runtime: 148 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Strong sexual references and coarse language

Very French.

French writers and directors seem to have an inbuilt talent for writing and directing films about families and tensions in relationships. They dramatise these not so much in melodramatic encounters and crises (though they can do that too) but in the ordinary things of life. The premiss of this quite long drama (almost two and a half hours) about families and friends is that in the ordinariness of life, we are not always truthful to ourselves or to others. We avoid responsibilities or hurt others with little white lies. We also tell more than little white lies to ourselves which evolve into considerable self-deception, sometimes with dire consequences. Hence the title of the film.

During the opening credits we see a young man on a motor bike riding through Paris streets and suddenly hit by a lorry. He is hospitalised with severe injuries. A group of close friends come to visit him. But, it is summer and northern hemisphere vacation time. Should they go on their planned holiday or stay in Paris to be with their friend?

We know that they will go on holidays but the scene in which they debate whether they should go or not, that their friend will be unconscious because of surgery and recuperation, and rationalising their going means the beginning of a new round of little white lies.

Much of the film shows the group on holidays by the sea out from Bordeaux. They know each other well and have been there before. For a while, we and they are happy in the sun and in the water.

But, we know it can’t last. We begin to be very aware of the potential for clash. In fact, in one sequence before they go, we see the senior friend, Max, a restaurateur and owner of the holiday house (Francois Cluzet) being massaged by his physiotherapist, Vincent, and then dining with him while Vincent talks about his affection for Max, declaring he is not gay, is married and Max is his son’s godfather. But, this encounter rankles with Max and the close proximity of Max and his wife with Vincent and his wife and son on the holiday leads to quite some outbursts, especially from a prickly Max prone to blurt out hurtful remarks who, whether he realises it or not, is an ambitious and controlling man. He has a very patient wife who is at pains to help him see what is happening despite her annoyance with him.

Others in the group have relationship problems which also come to the fore. Eric (Gilles Lellouche) is an actor who more than fancies himself as a ladies’ man and is being ditched by his latest, an opera singer. Marie (Marion Cotillard) loves the injured man but has a dread of commitment and finds herself, most unwillingly, having to make a commitment choice to her latest boyfriend, a very sympathetic singer. Antoine (Laurent Lafitte) has the blues because his long-standing girlfriend has broken contact and is planning to get married, but not to Antoine.

Plenty of problems which audiences may or may not be able to identify with but will surely recognise. It is a pity but necessary, of course, for the drama, that so many of these characters are not particularly pleasant people in their own unpleasant ways.

Some locals become part of the group, especially the old oyster fisherman who has known Max since he was a boy and knows the group well – and is in a position at the end of the film to challenge them all, which he does.

The film was written and directed by actor Guillaume Canet who directed the French adaptation of Harlan Coben’s Tell No One. He has taken on quite a large though intimate canvas here. He does it well but there is always that problem of how interested we really are in some, or all, of the characters and their sorting out their problems.

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