Saturday, December 10, 2011

Klapisch Crashes

Viard and Lellouche in My Piece of the Pie
My Piece of the Pie
Directed and written by Cedric Klapisch
Starring Karin Viard, Gilles Lellouche
Released by Sundance Selects; opened December 9, 2011

Cedric Klapisch’s boisterous films cram many characters and story lines into two (or so) hours. His last effort, Paris, was even more kaleidoscopic than usual, with the director adroitly juggling several relationships: of course, having some of France’s best actors (including Fabrice Luchini and Juliette Binoche) onscreen didn’t hurt.

Now comes his newest, My Piece of the Pie: for this director, it’s almost an intimate chamber piece that revolves around two protagonists--or antagonists, as we shall see. In the Norman seaside town of Dunkirk, heroine France (Karin Viard) is a single mother of three children who loses her job when the company she works for goes under as part of the global economic crisis. Meanwhile, in Paris (and London), is the financial whiz kid who personally caused France’s unemployment: charismatic anti-hero Steve is a cool customer whose lack of scruples extends from the board room to the bedroom, where he’s taken aback when the supermodel he’s wooing refuses to have sex with him after he flies her to Venice in his private plane.

After alternating between France’s and Steve’s separate worlds (the movie could also be called 99% vs. 1%), Klapisch finally gets to the nitty-gritty after France--desperate for a job to keep her family together--takes the train from Normandy to Paris to become a cleaning lady. Whom does she end up working for? You guessed it: Steve becomes France’s boss, and after many machinations that are undeniably clever but so obvious that you can spot them crawling up the Champs-Elysses, they end up as lovers--at least until Steve tells France (after their first night together) that he and his co-workers destroyed the company and sent her adrift in our anything-but-brave new economic world.

My Piece of the Pie is nothing if not timely, and Klapisch enjoys showing what a rich bastard Steve is (at one point the says, unapologetically, “Finance makes the world go round”) and how much fun it is being a rich bastard (wooing supermodels, flying around Europe, having an eternal five o’clock shadow). But the movie is too heavy-handed in its attempts to show that opposites really do attract.

The first half, as the precarious global economy and small-town blue-collar struggles bump up against each other, smartly sets up the conflict between France and Steve, but the second half falls apart as Klapisch muddies his message of responsibility and accountability with a shrill, feel-good revenge ending.

It’s bad enough that the movie heroine’s name is France. But during the film’s strange climax (which I won’t give away except to note that it involves the kidnapping of Steve’s young son in London, who is taken to Dunkirk as blackmail), the friendly crowds begin to yell “France! France! France!” and what’s already been obvious is flagrantly underlined for those who still didn’t get it for the first 105 minutes.

As France, Karin Viard carries an entire nation’s economic suffering on her shoulders, and although she’s a luminous presence, there are moments--when she impersonates Steve’s Russian bimbo during a dinner with his colleagues or dances with her kids to Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” in a department store while spending her first big paycheck--where even she can’t rescue the movie from Klapisch’s silliness.

The same goes for Gilles Lellouche, who has Steve’s impulsiveness, immaturity and single-mindedness down pat. But except for a few tender moments with his son, he’s unable to create a coherent character. The film suffers as Klapisch seems content to keep his antagonistic couple one-dimensionally symbolic.

In this underwhelming context, ending the film on a question mark--France responds to the crowd yelling for her and condemning Steve--is its single subtle moment. But subtlety is all wrong in a movie that hammers home its points throughout.

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