In my humble estimation, one of the finest actors working in contemporary cinema is Daniel Auteuil. Equally at home in period pieces (SADE), modern drama (UN COEUR D'HIVER) and comedy (THE CLOSET), the actor has exhibited a tremendous range and skill that is on par with American icons like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. Like those actors, Auteuil enlivens even the weakest material. When he is on screen, he’s a mesmerizing presence.
Auteuil works his magic in the fitfully amusing APRÈS VOUS (AFTER YOU), a film that has more tonal shifts than an experimental musical composition. Here, the actor is cast as Daniel, a maitre d’ at an upscale Paris bistro who takes pride in seeing to the needs of everyone around him. Daniel is the ultimate “people pleaser;” after all, it is the nature of his work to make the patrons enjoy a pleasant dining experience. He also neglects himself, more than often putting other people first.
One night, while taking a short cut to meet his exasperated girlfriend Christine (Maryline Canto), Daniel cuts through a park and comes across a portly gent in the process of trying to hang himself from a tree. Louis (José Garcia) recently was dumped by his girlfriend and had decided to end it all rather than face life without her. Something about Louis touches Daniel and he decides it is his mission to assist this lovelorn sap with everything from providing a place to live to finding employment. Thus, Louis is installed as the sommelier at the restaurant where Daniel works.
Not content to leave well enough alone, Daniel agrees to help Louis reunite with his lost love, the floral shop owner Blanche (Sandrine Kimberlain), who is now engaged to another man. Before long, Daniel has fallen for Blanche, complicating his relationship with Christine and threatening Louis’ fragile mental health.
APRÈS VOUS has its share of laughs, but the trio of writers (Benoît Graffin, David Léotard, and director Pierre Salvadori) cannot seem to find a consistent tone for the proceedings. The early scenes of Louis’ suicide attempt promise a black comedy that give way to slapstick (a particularly amusing bit where Daniel attempts to coach Louis on his answers during his job interview) to straightforward romantic comedy.
The actors all do yeoman work, with Sandrine Kimberlain providing a charming presence as Blanche and José Garcia is fine as the depressed Louis who blooms into confidence under Daniel’s care. The real centerpiece of the movie, though, is Auteuil, who takes the uneven material and elevates it to an enjoyable time.
Rating: B MPAA Rating: NONE Running time: 105 mins.
Viewed at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center 2004"Rendez-vous with French Cinema"