After You (Après Vous)
- Reviewed by: Avril Carruthers
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Current Rating 5.33/10 | 3 Votes
Produced by Phillippe Martin
Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Jose Garcia, Sandrine Kiberlain, Marilyn Canto, Michele Moretti, Garence Clavel, Fabio Zenoni.
Antoine (Daniel Auteuil) has a character and personality that is admirably suited to the hospitality industry. This is just as well, because his job is being the maitre d' at a busy Paris brasserie. He loves to be the one who makes people happy. In fact, he will go out of his way to help people who might not really want his help because he can't bear the thought of anyone being uncomfortable, or without something he can plainly see they need. This has the effect of annoying the people who do not want his help but does not stop people from asking for favours and services, because he can't actually bring himself to say no to anyone.
As the movie opens, Antoine is on the phone apologising to his girlfriend Christine (Marilyn Canto) and trying to get away from the brasserie to meet her. As usual he is continually delayed by customers asking him for service. When he finally tears himself away, very late, he takes a short cut across the park, not stopped by having to climb the iron gate which according to the notice, was locked at 8pm. In the park he witnesses a man hanging himself from a tree with a hose. Plainly someone who needs his help!
A very funny scene ensues with Antoine frantically trying to lift up the hanging man with one arm around his legs, while he tries to reach with the other to cut him down and having his mobile ringing at the same time. The man (Jose Garcia) is furious. Antoine takes him home and in the general chaos of having an angry and melodramatic potential suicide on his hands starts very properly to feel guilty for not having made the fellow happy. He must redouble his efforts! Make amends! (And what about his girlfriend, waiting in vain for him at the restaurant where they were to have dinner?)
Making amends for saving the potential suicide's life involves driving the man to his grandparents' house to save them from reading the suicide letter he has sent them, and, since ironically the grandmother's failing sight prevents her from reading the letter herself, Antoine 'reads' her a cheery substitute message. This has the useful side benefit of letting him find out the man's name is Louis. Knowing Louis' sad history with a girl called Blanche, the grandmother is amazed. She imposes on Antoine for a lift, telling him in confidence that it was she who advised Blanche to leave Louis. With an ever more furious Louis hiding in the back, exerting a spiteful revenge with lipstick on his grandmother's coat, Antoine keeps up the cheery pretence.
The pattern is set for Antoine being caught between people he must please or face their disapproval and the anger and frustration he inevitably incurs when someone else's needs waylay him. He successfully keeps himself so busy (and ineffectively) doing this that it's likely he will never face the rather ghastly emptiness within himself which nonetheless resonates unbearably when he sees others in need and causes him to rush around serving others' needs even more compulsively.
The comedy piles chaotic situations one on the other in a headlong rush of lives seriously out of control. Soon the exasperated Christine has left Antoine and the whole mess, but that only leaves Antoine free to fall for the girl Louis was trying to kill himself over, Blanche (Sandrine Kiberlain).
Falling for Blanche means Antoine gets to feel happily even more guilty and conflicted and constrained to help. So far, so good. The melodrama that constantly surrounds Antoine can continue.
While exaggerated for humour, the characters are believable enough in an undeconstructed, unconscious sort of way, playing out the musical-chairs/triangle-game of rescuer, victim and angry perpetrator which can be somewhat tedious. Nevertheless, the comic elements rest successfully on well-choreographed physical comedy and sight gags and plot implications and complications that multiply exponentially.
Sandrine Kiberlain plays a sweetly helpless and pliant Blanche, far less assertive and independent than Christine and far more appropriate for our Antoine - who definitely needs someone who needs his help. As long as these two are together the status quo will be maintained and truthfully, they deserve each other as long as neither of them wishes to live anything but a co-dependent life. Jose Garcia as Louis is alternately explosive and implosive as such tragic romantics are, and some satisfying balance is achieved by his final vandalising act of closure. Daniel Auteuil's genial bonhomie absolutely shines in this movie. Antoine is such a personable disaster area it's hard not to like him, albeit with gritted teeth and an overwhelming desire to shake him. Just be thankful you can leave Antoine in the theatre and go home.
© Avril Carruthers 6th June 2005
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