Populaire boasts an offbeat premise. In the 1950s bright, ambitious Rose Pamphyle (Deborah Francois) wants to be a modern woman. There's just one problem - she's the only child of a stubborn father, who manages a small grocery store in a French backwater. But no matter, full of gumption, Rose packs a bag, books a room in a women-only hostel and attends an interview to be a secretary at a small insurance company run by Louis Echard (played by French heartthrob Romain Duris).
Being a secretary, Rose believes, will give her the opportunity to meet interesting people and travel the world. Louis quickly puts her straight on that score and the pair clash instantly. But like all good romantic comedies, we know it's only a matter of time before the spark of anger turns into something else entirely.
Rosie is an inept secretary but she does have one unique talent - she can type really, really fast. It is this talent that Louis spots and decides to nurture, his own dreams of being a champion thwarted by his domineering father. While Louis can appreciate Rose's womanly attributes, he wants to enter her into the regional typing contest to win a bet with his American friend Bob, and so no distraction can be allowed to rear its ugly head.
A desire to win at all costs compels Louis to drive Rose harder and harder, even inviting her to share his home - so she can spend more time practising. But Rose is more than up to the challenge and aces the regional championships. We can see she has an altogether different motivation - she just wants Louis to love her. Louis, however, is battling his own post-war demons which prevent him from reciprocating.
Rose is shown to be no doormat, but a sparky heroine who isn't afraid of making her opinions known - or making the first move. She is proved right in the end - Rose does get to see something of the world and to meet all kinds of people, but she learns it can be quite lonely at the top.
Populaire is beautifully styled - I wanted to take home every one of Rose's outfits - and the attention to detail is impressive. This is a delightful French comedy of the kind I only wish we could make in England. How do the French consistently and continually manage to turn out populist, crowd-pleasing fare, while we struggle to produce even one decent film? If you're afraid of films with subtitles, let this be the one that changes your mind.