Classy Film: Un Prince Presque Charmant
Had Un Prince Presque Charmant been an American movie, it would have starred Katherine Heigl as a young, vivacious, naive Southern girl yearning for her Prince Charming. This is the level of this French rom-com, which borrows every banality of the genre and peppers it with a good dose of French societal clichés.
I considered prefacing this blog entry with a spoiler alert but really, you can guess the entire scenario just by looking at the poster. Jean-Marc (Vincent Perez) is the overworked and misogynistic Parisian owner of an electronics company and the majority shareholder of a small factory in the South of France. For economic reasons, and without caring about the people about to lose their jobs, he decides the factory should relocate to Bulgaria.
The film was released last January, as relocations and factory closures were switching from being the hot topic on the evening news to the hot topic on the big screen. Another movie exploring potential relationships between the CEO of big companies and the employees whose lives he destroys came out three months later, Ma part du gâteau.
Right after signing the relocation contract, a strike forces Jean-Marc to undertake a three-day-long road trip from Paris to Monaco to get to his daughter’s wedding. France is paralysed by a strike that criticizes, in the vaguest ways, just about everything evil about capitalism and reminds Jean-Marc at every possible crossroad why choosing to dedicate his time to his career rather than to his daughter was a bad idea.
On the road, Jean-Marcs has a chance encounter with Marie (Vahina Giocante), a beautiful provincial girl much younger than him who dreams of meeting a prince. Rom-com twist: Marie is in the fact the daughter of the relocalated factory owner, though only the film viewer knows this from the start.
Written and produced by Luc Besson, Un Prince Presque Charmant quotes the classic tropes of the rom-com genre: the two unknowns mistaken for a couple who face sleeping in the same bed, the CEO realising that he has missed out on the best of life, the big company eating a small one, the douche who becomes a gentleman when he meets the right woman…
In the first part of the movie, Jean-Marc is shown as an abusive boss who thinks it’s ok to be rude to his female secretary Evelyn (Judith Siboni) or to the woman delivering lunch. The film opens with him making fun of Evelyn’s suggestion that she could drive because really, how could she handle a car that powerful? Jean-Marc’s early world is split between the men who run companies and the women who make their lives easier, who entertain them and who they sleep with. Although this behaviour is easy to dismiss because the premise is that this is a redemption story, I don’t believe we should. The idea that abusive, misogynistic men can be reformed is about as likely as Edward marrying Vivian.
Jean-Marc’s character turn-around is suggested by three changes of clothes in the whole film: at the beginning, he wears a classic, suave three-piece suit – alongside his car, his private plane and his threesomes, it suits his life of a CEO. As the road trip starts going south, as he encounters roadblocks and runs out of petrol, the elegance gets messier, the status symbols start being taken off one by one: the jacket, the vest, the tie. By the time Jean-Marc switches to a Renault electric car, considered “feminine”, he wears a casual double blue outfit of jeans and a shirt. Even though he finishes the film in another suit, it’s for his daughter’s wedding and it’s clear that this new attire is about finally making right by her rather than showing off power and money.
I doubt Un Prince will be released in English-speaking markets. It received average reviews from critics and spectators alike in France. Its French-ness could, as is often the case, drag in some viewers, but not enough to justify many screens. If you don’t speak the language, you won’t be missing out.