Happy Few

Happy Few


Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

The Happy Few in Antony Cordier’s latest film are two comfortable, affably married Parisian couples. When Rachel’s (Marina Fois, 22 Bullets) jewellery business delivers to her web designer Vincent (Nicolas Duvauchelle, White Material), their mutual attraction is readily apparent. It isn’t long before Rachel invites Vincent and his wife Teri (Elodie Bouchez) to dinner. Everything is very pleasant, relaxed and shabby-chic, very savoir-vivre. The instant physical chemistry between Teri and Franck (Roschdy Zem), Rachel’s husband, is also obvious.

After they’ve shared a few drops of wine and a large dose of metaphor, all revolving around a ping-pong table, Teri and Franck kiss. Everyone is mildly shocked, yet more intrigued and they handle it with a rather jejune sophistication. Soon they are regularly putting their sex lives on shuffle, passionately partner-swapping with an abandon that is both respectful and injurious to their ongoing marriages. At first they consensually agree to set no rules and enjoy themselves. As their feelings become more complicated they’re forced to question modern relationships, responsibilities and how possible it really is to be in love with more than one person at a time.

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This is the moneyed, beautiful bourgeoisie cooly emoting the eloquent travails of a menage á quatre. To describe Happy Few as very… French would be glib, although it does perhaps, however clumsily, shorthand some quintessential characteristics. Indeed, portraying the complexities of appended relationships is well established in French cinema, from the likes of Jules et Jim to The Girl Cut In Two. The waifish Teri’s international background is also reminiscent of Jane Birkin in La Piscine. A better touchstone here would be 2005’s Peindre Ou Faire L’Amour, with less humour and much more nudity.

Of course, no one in Happy Few cites any term as sullying as ‘swinging’, but this is still stylish dallying with France’s half-taboo échangisme, partner-swapping. Several years ago the magazine Couples estimated that some three million French people were indulging in the pastime and commentators, such as English expat writer Lucy Wadham, have noted its accepted, rarely discussed prevalence in contemporary living. So Cordier is rubbing a few veins on a very current national circumstance.

His co-written script wants to elevate events above the simply physical, moving his characters on from hedonism to polyamory. The long second act pulls them in various tasteful directions taken to logical conclusions, although nothing really surprises. His scenes of fantasy-fulfillment with industrial quantities of baking flour do then rather undermine his more sensitive pretensions. Still, despite the passions and earnestly fluctuating emotions it’s a rather tepid affair at times. Asking us to consider and enjoy the merits of this liberated regard for sex, this enlightened exploration of love across relationships, to detach it from fusty morality, gives less investment to developing the characters. It makes it hard to care that much whether these four will get to have their gâteau and eat it.

The heavy-handed screenplay regularly passes them innocent comments that are thunderously portentous, without a sense of real threat. They may have difficulty admitting how they really feel, even to themselves, they might get a bit upset, but they’re always going to be okay.

If anyone is a victim or in danger it’s their young children, sometimes sidelined, hurt or confused by the foursome’s antics. The film seems to posit that without the kids, the menage á quatre would be far more desirable and all the more possible. But with their children one can see the darker ramifications of their sensual and perhaps selfish actions. There are comments to be drawn about how these parents potentially undermine their stable families. Does such behaviour indicate brave, mature enlightenment? Or does it, and the fact that they simply don’t think about their families until it’s too late, signify a lack of consideration for the traditional family unit? Such contemplations are kept far in the occasionally buccolic distance, though. Happy Few, with soft tones and comfy interior design, seems more content with just enjoying how things look and feel.

Reviewed on: 25 Oct 2010
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Life becomes complicated when two respectable Parisian couples decide to start sleeping together.
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Director: Antony Cordier

Writer: Antony Cordier, Julie Peyr

Starring: Marina Foïs, Elodie Bouchez, Roschdy Zem, Nicolas Duvauchelle

Year: 2010

Runtime: 103 minutes

Country: France


London 2010

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