Review: French comedy ‘The Rose Maker’ is a buoyant romp

Two women in a greenhouse tending flowers in the movie “The Rose Maker.”
Catherine Frot, left, and Marie Petiot in “The Rose Maker.”
(Music Box Films)

Set over the course of a pivotal year in the life of a struggling French rose breeder, Pierre Pinaud’s “The Rose Maker” is a slender but engaging tale about competition, cooperation and creativity. And while we’re on the C’s, no small amount of craftiness.

As in so many underdog comedies about saving one’s livelihood, necessity becomes the mother of invention. So for the never-say-die Eve Vernet (Catherine Frot), who runs her late father’s ailing flower business named Roses Vernet, she’ll have to push some serious envelope to avoid bankruptcy and stay afloat.

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A possible answer to her dilemma appears when her straight-laced assistant, Vera (Olivia Côte), unexpectedly brings on three outcasts from a prison rehabilitation program, who will work Eve’s rose farm unsalaried. Not that these wayward new employees — ex-petty thief Fred (rapper Melan Omerta, a.k.a. Manel Foulgoc), middle-aged Samir (Fatsah Bouyahmed) and timid Nadège (Marie Petiot) — know anything about horticulture, much less the meticulous world of artisanal rose growing. But free is free, and for a while it looks as if Eve and Vera will get what they paid for.


However, Eve soon learns that her ragtag staffers each have their strengths, most notably the surly and skittish Fred. Hatching a devious scheme, she convinces him to use his burglary skills to steal a rare rosebush locked away on the well-guarded corporate grounds of rose-growing titan Lamarzelle (Vincent Dedienne), who’s itching to swallow up Eve’s company. Her goal: to use the purloined flower to create a game-changing hybrid rose, win the famed Bagatelle International New Rose Contest and salvage her business.

Morally dubious? Sure. But the smooth Lamarzelle is presented as just enough of a calculating fat cat that we can’t help but root for Eve’s success.

The film’s entertaining, if far-fetched, caper element gives way to something deeper and more emotional as the desperate, single-minded Eve bonds with Fred, Samir and Nadège. In turn, these workers come to trust and respect Eve, her devotion to her family enterprise and the art of breeding roses. An eventual monetary incentive doesn’t hurt their commitment to the farm either.

As rose-growing season advances, the script by director Pinaud and Fadette Drouard (in collaboration with Philippe Le Guay, Sara Wikler and Blandine Jet), digs into Fred’s personal story, which largely involves his fraught attempts to reconnect with the parents who abandoned him years ago. A few thematic parallels between raising children and nurturing roses are managed and Omerta is quite good as his Fred evolves from homophobic hothead to a capable man with a real future. (That Eve spots his nascent olfactory skills is a nice touch.)

Unfortunately, not enough time is spent fleshing out the pipe-smoking, never-married Eve’s history beyond her love of the single father who raised her and her determination to honor his life by sustaining Roses Vernet. Frot, a 10-time Caesar Award-nominee (and two-time winner), brings sufficient moxie and resilience to her part and proves a solid presence, but her character doesn’t unfold and grow in satisfying enough ways.

As for Samir and Nadège, although they make major contributions to the rose farm’s revived momentum, we learn little about them as people. The same goes for the loyal, long-suffering Vera, seemingly the glue who’s been holding together the fiscal end of things. It’s a testament to their portrayers’ abilities that these characters make as much of an impression as they do.


Still, it’s a buoyant tale with enough floral grandeur and scrappy action to keep us invested. The use of Dean Martin’s 1965 version of the romantic tune “Red Roses For a Blue Lady” over the opening credits is enjoyably cheeky. And for anyone who wants a step-by-step lesson in hybridizing roses, this one’s definitely for you.

'The Rose Maker'

In French with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

Playing: Starts April 1, Laemmle Royal Theatre, West Los Angeles; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena