|The reader .... at home|
This has been a film I literally waited for more than a year to see; first it was to be shown at the 2020 French Film Festival in late March before COVID changed the world, and then it was scheduled for an Australian DVD release in July (which I promptly bought online) but the release was subsequently delayed, and then the film returned to the French Film Festival in September after lockdown was lifted. However, I was unavailable during the few sessions it was to be screened.
Finally, the DVD arrived more than 6 months later in February of 2021. And yes, I watched it immediately! Why it took so long for me to review, however, is an uninteresting story. I must admit that there was high expectation after the months of waiting. The story, though not entirely plausible, was sweet and light as a whipped cream; perfect to be consumed after a long work day; just like having a dollop of Chantilly cream in your coffee to smooth out the rough edges of the day.
|Fabrice Luchini as literary critic Jean-Michel Rouche|
The heart of the film is really about the love of reading, dressed up in a light-hearted detective story with no blood or murder involved (for a change). Fabrice Luchini plays a literary critic Jean-Michel Rouche who hosts a popular talk show on the latest in the literary scene. There’s more than a hint of François Busnel from French TV’s La Grande Librairie in this character; certainly the innocuous way that Busnel sometimes treat his guests is exaggerated in Luchini’s Rouche.
The story centres on the discovery of a brilliant new novel “The Last Hours of a Love Affair” by a junior literary agent Delphine Despero. She ‘found’ an unpublished manuscript when she was visiting her family in a small town in Breton. The writer (now dead) was a man called Henri Pick, a former pizza restaurant owner in Crozon. Overnight, the book becomes a sensation but nothing much is known about the writer.
|Playing Sherlock - Camille Cottin here as |
Pick's daughter, Joséphine, with Rouche
Apparently, the book was found in the town’s local 'Library of Rejected Manuscripts' - literally the library’s backroom with a few shelves and badly-bound manuscripts lying on them in a higgledy-piggledy way. Of course, Rouche being Rouche, wants to debunk this as a literary hoax and makes his way to the town after he loses his job and his reputation. With nothing else for him to lose or do, he sets out on a quest by donning his Sherlockian hat, whilst Pick’s daughter played by Camille Cottin (from Call My Agent!) becomes his unlikely sidekick.
Adapted from a book of the same name by David Foenkinos; there are lots of moments that would appeal to the bookish type throughout the film. It’s loaded with Pushkin references. The film also explores the writer/publisher relationship and the current literary world (but not quite reaching the same heights of discussion as Assayas’ Non-Fiction(2018)). There’s an in-joke about Marguerite Duras’ writing; and also a reference to The Warburg Method of ordering your library. The last is a brilliant invention, and in my opinion, libraries should adopt this method. It may even get a lot more people wandering around a library, (as much as this is now out of fashion) though half of them would be wandering around lost I should guess! How we depend on the Dewey Decimal system…(my own father instilled this practice in me from when I was eight or nine years old and living in Hong Kong).
|Aspiring literary agent, Delphine Despero, |
played by Irene Isaaz, about to make her
'discovery' in the Library of Rejected Manuscripts
Regardless of the system, the Library is a sacred place, because as you read, a whole other world appears to you, and the neighbouring books that build out that world are vital ingredients to continue your discovery of foreign or intimate shores. Isn’t that also what films are about?