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Paul Calori Kostia Testut Footnotes Review

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Footnotes | Review

Footnotes | Review

The Tread Shoes: Calori and Testut Hoof through Musical Homage

Paul Calori Kostia Testut FootnotesDirectors Paul Calori and Kostia Testut face something of an uphill battle with their directorial debut Footnotes, a working-class musical bon mot which is as pleasurable as it is unrefined. An homage to musical greats like Stanley Donen and Jacques Demy, this blue collar romantic interlude plays sort of like the Dardenne Bros. version of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, where a young factory girl, struggling to find permanent work in the flagging Parisian job market, becomes embroiled in union politics when the business owner of a luxury shoe label decides to fire his French staff and outsource labor to China.

Barely making ends meet as she shuttles between entry-level positions in a highly competitive job marker, Julie (Pauline Etienne) snags a lucrative opportunity working for a luxury shoe factory, Jacques Couture. Joining an all-female staff, Julie keeps her head down amongst women who have worked together for decades. Her short lived relief is upended the first day on the job by rumors of the company being sold by the CEO, Xavier Laurent (Loic Corbery). Factory manager Felicien (Francois Morel) assures the staff, including Julie’s scrappy supervisor Francoise (Clementine Yelnik), such is not the case, suggesting his hiring of the new girl as evidence to the contrary. A surprise showdown with Laurent finds the smarmy businessman at his most manipulative. But the women refuse to be placated and go on strike, throwing the factory into an uproar. Julie’s chance flirtation with truck driver Samy (Olivier Chantreau) threatens possible romance when his colleagues are forced to aggressively remove goods from the factory.

At the heart of the film is Julie (the film’s original title was Julie and the Shoe Factory), played serviceably by a likeable, if unmemorable Pauline Etienne. The ingénue previously played the central role in Guillaume Nicloux’s remake of The Nun (2013), a role previously inhabited by Anna Karina. However, Etienne is no Catherine Deneuve or Debbie Reynolds, and despite the rag-tag lyricism of the film’s shop talk musical numbers, it becomes difficult to feel emotionally invested in a heroine so unrelentingly waifish in characterization and screen presence. Etienne is the brunette version of the similarly uninspiring Deborah Francois, who headlined Populaire (2012), another recent Gallic recapitulation of pop-infused tones reaching for the similar nostalgic verve of bygone cinematic era.

A romantic entanglement with Olivier Chantreau’s truck driver is a bit of an unnecessary, foregone conclusion, especially considering a much warmer screen presence with Clementine Yelnik’s playfully irascible supervisor, who gets relegated to the back burner. Perhaps most entertaining is Loic Corbery (even less likeable than in Lucas Belvaux’s Not My Type) as the charming but unabashedly two-faced CEO Xavier Laurent, who woos his agitated female staff into submission with silly but suave dance numbers before he commits to screwing them over.

Unkempt, and all the more charming for it, Footnotes may not slide into off-key territory, but is quickly diminished when considering the footsteps of the icons it tries to ape. At the same time, it’s a film a helluva lot more grounded and sincere than its glitzy American counterpart La La Land, which also attempts to revitalize the same magic so effortlessly obtained by a Donen or a Demy.

If Cherbourg is an obvious comparison point, so is Ozon’s 2010 Potiche, which positions Deneuve as a 1970s factory owner forced to step in for her husband and act as arbitrator for a strike. Interestingly, Calori and Testut bring their protagonist to an empowering epiphany, asserting there’s more for Julie in store than achieving her myopic short term occupational goals, even if it’s disappointingly folded into a romantic interlude which heretofore hadn’t been used to define her.

★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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