2½ stars (out of four)
The opening credits for "Apres Vous" send a very clear signal: You're about to see a French romantic comedy overflowing with delicious, quirky fun. And for a while, at least, you won't be disappointed.
We're quickly introduced to members of the requisite love triangle (which occasionally stretches its borders to become more of a trapezoid). There are the loveable, hapless men (Antoine, played by the fantastic Daniel Auteuil, and Jose Garcia's Louis) and a doe-eyed seductress (an ethereal Sandrine Kiberlain as Blanche). Predictably, they're all plagued by variously hilarious quirks, none more so than Louis, a loveable loser who's taken being dumped (organized without his knowledge by his meddlesome grandmother) particularly hard. Antoine, a harried but happy headwaiter in a Paris bistro, finds Louis one night dangling from a tree in the middle of a vast city park.
Luckily, Louis is so inept he's incapable of committing suicide with any success, and so, with Antoine ministering to his new friend's wounded neck and ego, they set out ostensibly to right the wrongs of Louis' past. The most profound wrong is that pesky breakup, courtesy of a sweetly neurotic beauty who, surprise, surprise, is living right there in Paris, running her own flower shop.
The dialogue is zippy, the laughs are frequent, and the sheer Frenchness of it all seems enough to sweep us up, unprotesting, into the froth.
And then the middle of the film hits, and the anchors drop. It's not that things go bad (except for the characters), but the abrupt change of pace is disconcerting, and the movie starts to drag. There's simply too much of this movie; a generous cut at the three-quarters mark could have helped things enormously.
Auteuil and Kiberlain keep things interesting as best they can; their shared screen time just about justifies staying through the fidget-inducing remainder of the film. Garcia's Louis, whose expressive eyes are more often than not filled with tears, teeters dangerously between endearingly helpless and flat-out pathetic. It's not clear exactly why Antoine feels such responsibility for Louis; one can speculate, certainly, that this hang-dog friend fills some void in Antoine's life, but it's never exactly clear why Louis is allowed, even encouraged, to stick around (in Antoine's life, his apartment, his workplace) as long as he does.
But of course Louis must stick around, if only to propel the increasingly Shakespearean plot (think "As You Like It," not "Othello"). Who is in love with whom? Who has pure intentions? Who is scaling someone's trellis in the middle of the night?
"Apres Vous" is a sweet, if dramatically overlong, trifle that teaches us several valuable lessons: One, you never know when love will find you. Two, generally speaking, it's best not to walk through public parks after they've closed. Three, despite gorging on nearly every delicious food imaginable, it appears that French women do not, in fact, get fat. And neither do the men. It's all very unfair.
Directed and written by Pierre Salvatori; screenplay by Benoit Graffin and David Colombo Leotard; photographed by Gilles Henry; edited by Isabelle Devinck; music by Camille Bazbaz; production designed by Yves Fournier; produced by Philippe Martin. A Paramount Classics release; opens Friday at Loews Pipers Alley and Century CineArts in Evanston. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 1:50. MPAA rating: R (for language).
Antoine - Daniel Auteuil
Louis - Jose Garcia
Blanche - Sandrine Kiberlain
Christine - Marilyn Canto
Martine - Michele Moretti
Karine - Garence Clavel
Andre - Fabio Zenoni