Whatever else you might say about the French, they have style. Folies Bergere is about as un-French a movie as you could get. It is a movie in search of a genre, domestic, quotidian, embarrassingly gauche, banal even, a teaser, and at times a teaser of the cruder sort. But it gets by because of Isabelle Huppert, who is the living embodiment of French style.
We knew that she would age well – I know that from the French photo gallery in my bathroom – but here she is at sixty-one, not so much radieuse or lumineuse in the grand French tradition, but an actress at peace with herself and with her own womanhood, and one who can still come on like the pretty girl that she is. It is a part of a remarkable assurance that can also show vulnerability that lights up what might otherwise have been a desultory sit-com of American tawdriness. For men as well as women of what the French call a certain age, this is a performance to savour.
She is married to a cattle farmer in the country. Life is fixed and less than thrilling. Their son is up to God knows what in a school for acrobats in Paris. (What good could come of that?) She is ripe for what in some quarters is called a fling, and your teeth might be put on edge by a frightful twerp who knows that the Net code word for randy granny is cougar. He mercifully passes, and a more urbane figure appears, and nature takes its course. My one regret is that she does not slap the face of the twerp. (I recall a movie where the serene Julie Christie snapped a young twerp to his senses.)
This is not a strong film, and it may hold little for those who do not yet know the fear of terminal irrelevance, but this woman – this actress – delivers in high French style, and the baby-boomers might find an affirmation of life that is a kind of comfort to them. I made my debut at the Melbourne Emporium on my way to the cinema, and I could relate to the estrangement of a country girl in a glitzy capital full of much younger foreigners.
And if you have one bit of theatre in your blood – and God help those who do not – you must see this film for just one scene. You will hardly see it coming, but when you do, you will gaze in wonderment. It will knock your socks off, and you will walk out better than you walked in. That last proposition comes with a cast iron guarantee.
And why did women give up on hats? Just look at the allure of the lead in the fur hat in the ad.