One simple act of kindness and the hilarious complications that follow form the heart-stone of Pierre Salvadori’s romantic-comedy, one that rolls out bad luck and angst-ridden romance with gags and some very pretty flower arrangements. Daniel Auteuil, French-cinema’s Prince-of-buried-emotion, plays Antoine, a man of carefully chosen words who bottles his feelings well. Antoine runs a successful restaurant, is married to a competent wife and appears to be in control.
One night, on the way back from work, Antoine rescues Louis (José Garcia) who is just about to hang himself from a tree in the local park. Louis is a stranger, yet from the moment the noose is unwound from his neck, the two men immediately form a connection.
Up to this point, we guess Antoine was having a minor mid-life crisis. He was bored. Now Antoine is a ‘saviour’: his super-hero masculinity is affirmed, and he feels responsible for his new friend. Much to the aghast of his wife, Antoine is determined to help Louis get his life back on track.
The hapless Louis’ to-do list is demanding: he needs a home, a job and wants reconciliation with his ex-girlfriend, the luminous, lily-pale florist Blanche (Sandrine Kiberlain). Antoine starts out by intercepting the suicide letter Louis had written to his grandparents in San Malo. In an attempt to beat the postal delivery, he and Louis leave Paris late one night and drive out for a hilarious encounter with Louis’ grandmother.
Antoine then gives Louis a job (he’s a hopeless waiter) in his restaurant; and after his wife leaves him, Louis moves in. Then there’s the added complication of the lovely Blanche. Antoine plays cupid and tries to get the two back together, but in doing so begins to fall for her himself.
Salvadori directs with humour that for the English audience is somewhat on-the-nose and slapstick. Garcia plays Louis as a buffoon, dumber than dumb: emotionally and intellectually limited. He is two-dimensional and it’s difficult to believe Blanche ever considered him as a boyfriend.
Nevertheless, Après Vous is magic. It is hugely watchable because of Auteuil and Kiberlain’s performances. Kiberlain’s Blanche is serene and as unreadable as her flowers; her shop is a shrine to disappointment and frustrated romance. Yet we know she feels deeply, in an ordinary, yet cinematic way (which is Kiberlain’s charm).
Auteuil is not a heart in winter here; comedy has thawed him (a little), and he holds desire with loose reins: holding back, moving forward a little, and holding back again. Auteuil is stardust seduction and for this reason alone Après Vous merits our full and forgiving attention.
Director: Pierre Salvadori (2003)