Monday, 17 October 2011

LFF 2011: Nobody Else But You (Gérald Hustache-Mathieu, 2011) Review

Sophie Quinton plays a murdered cheese model in comedy noir Nobody Else But You (2011)

A stylish snow-steeped noir, Gérald Hustache-Mathieu's Nobody Else But You (re-titled from the French Poupoupidou) is one of the most purely enjoyable films of recent years, and a particular treat for cinéastes. David (Jean-Paul Rouve, last seen in Luc Besson's Adèle Blanc-Sec, 2010) is a crime novelist visiting the beautiful region of Mouthe, whose local celebrity, a saucy weathergirl and cheese model by the name of Candice Lecour (Sophie Quinton), has just been found dead. The police declare it suicide, quickly brushing off any media attention. But David, who is suffering from a severe case of writers block, suspects foul play, and sets upon solving the mystery for himself. Several characters refer to his potboilers as "implausible". So is the plot of this film, but that's just one example of how reality and fiction constantly overlap and inform each other, resulting in a smart genre pastiche which works as a compelling mystery in its own right.

Critics are often keen to divide art and entertainment as if the two could never co-exist, but here's a film which works both as an escapist fantasy and an academic case study. It's fluffier than a jet-washed poodle, yes, but Hustache-Mathieu's tale, co-written with Juliette Sales, is also a masterclass in tone. Effortlessly moving between sight gags, affecting drama and classical noir convolutions, Nobody Else But You shifts gears without the audience ever noticing; at times we could be watching Raymond Chandler done with the spirit of Chaplin, and vice versa. Continuity of tone is one of the hardest feats to accomplish in filmmaking. Consider that a film is shot out of sequence, and often edited and scored without the presence of the director. There are so many cooks attending the broth that the taste could be soured, but Hustache-Mathieu seems to have complete control, and he never misses a genre trick.

The cineliterate screenplay is also wonderfully layered, and never slips into the kind of self-congratulatory referencing that directors like Quentin Tarantino, whose name-checking of obscure samurai and blaxploitation movies serve him more than his stories, are prone to. Hustache-Mathieu works references into his plot that also have a direct impact on it, such as the scene where two characters connect over a conversation about Cecil B. DeMille ("he's a man"). Another footnote is clearly the Coens' Fargo (1996), yet the effect of that reference is subliminal and adds to the overall atmosphere. If you haven't seen the film it doesn't matter, and if you have its memory will evoke a smile. Nobody Else But You is supported by rather than reliant on its knowledge of cinema, and that's the fundamental difference.

The plot also revolves around a classic icon of the screen, as David's mystery soon begins to draw parallel with the life of Marilyn Monroe. Lecour is a dead ringer for the blonde bombshell, and the opening credits even recreate (to stunningly sexy effect) her 1962 photoshoot with Bert Stern. Her nude body protected by soft silk and linen, this famous photoshoot has come to be known as "The Last Sitting", as it was shot just six weeks before Monroe's death. Once again, reality informs fiction, and vice versa. Hustache-Mathieu also takes liberties with the JFK story to inform his own corrupt politician, about whom I shall reveal nothing. Indeed, the less you know about Nobody Else But You's plot, the better. Part of the film's enjoyment is being taken by surprise at the exact moment you think you've got a hold on it.

Indeed, no other film at this year's festival has surprised me quite as much. The performances are stunning, especially the deadpan Rouve, who wanders through the tale with a hangdog expression, constantly harassed by his publisher and a young girl named Betty, who quickly develops a soft spot for the weathered author. But this is unquestionably Quinton's show. Perfectly balancing sex appeal, humour and emotional depth (her beyond-the-grave narration is haunting), she proves herself as a performer of considerable skill and range, and one determined not to be held back by her looks. She could easily become another pinup girl but instead she's challenging the persona, approaching it with tongue firmly in cheek. Hopefully this role will bring her the acclaim she deserves, and a compelling career will follow.

Nobody Else But You is screening at the London Film Festival on Monday 17th and Thursday 20th October. This review can originally be found at Flickfeast.

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