- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2005

“Apres Vous,” a French comedy opening locally today, contrives to demonstrate the truism, “No good deed goes unpunished.” The demonstration comes at the expense of Antoine, a helpful-to-a-fault headwaiter portrayed by Daniel Auteuil, in peerless command of his expressively beady eyes and incorrigible patsy’s temperament.

There is little Antoine won’t do to make himself obliging to customers, co-workers or total strangers. Lingering beyond his accustomed shift at a restaurant called Chez Jean, he takes a shortcut through the Bois de Boulogne to keep a date with long-time fiancee Christine (Maryline Canto).

Their rendezvous is disrupted by Antoine’s need to prevent a calamity: the death of a despondent wretch attempting to hang himself from a tree limb. Antoine takes in the failed suicide of a lovelorn Spaniard named Louis (Jose Garcia) and twists his life grotesquely out of shape while struggling to restore the survivor’s morale and subsidize his recovery.

Persuaded that Louis was driven to desperation when rejected by a girlfriend named Blanche, Antoine hunts her down and attempts to mastermind a reconciliation. Director Pierre Salvadori and his writing partners hit a bit of a snag at this point, since it doesn’t appear as if Blanche ever did a disappearing act.

Perhaps Louis is just too stupefied to recall that she’s the proprietor of a flower shop, where Antoine proceeds to become a generous new customer while playing for time as mender of broken hearts.

At the same time, Antoine is busily, improbably trying to convince his own boss that clueless Louis would make a fine sommelier. In the course of these campaigns he finally alienates Christine but is rewarded with the prospect of Blanche (the lankily wistful Sandrine Kiberlain) as romantic consolation and/or melancholy reclamation project. Ominously, she has confessed to another character, “Three drinks and I’m anybody’s.”

Mr. Salvadori’s work is new to me, but he’s obviously been in harness long enough to acquire both an entertaining set of capabilities and a nagging set of shortcomings. He has a flair for sustaining situations with a slow-burning deliberation that was once a Laurel and Hardy specialty.

The most playful example here finds Antoine and Blanche being circled by one of her boyfriends as they prolong a kiss outside her apartment door. Mr. Salvadori gets remarkable mileage out of the astonished witness staring in disbelief and leaving the frame only to slide back into it for a longer look. I can’t recall an odd-man-out joke choreographed quite this wittily or gracefully.

On the other hand, the filmmakers miscalculate in stringing out the plot for a superfluous quarter-hour or so, belaboring Louis as an emotional wreck and delaying a resolution of some kind about the attraction between Antoine and Blanche.

Despite blundering into a “Will this never end?” thicket, however, “Apres Vous” still manages to generate considerable good will and incidental amusement.

**1/2

TITLE: “Apres Vous”

RATING: R (Occasional profanity and sexual candor; elements of morbid humor)

CREDITS: Directed by Pierre Salvadori. Screenplay by Mr. Salvadori, Benoit Graffin and David Leotard. Cinematography by Gilles Henry. Production design by Yves Fournier. Costume design by Virginie Montel. Music by Camille Bazbaz. In French with English subtitles.

RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes

WEB SITE: www.paramountclassics.com/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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