The Mystery of Henri Pick
Fabrice Luchini, Camille Cottin, Alice Isaaz, Bastien Bouillon, Josiane Stoléru
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…a cosy Sunday afternoon crossword kind of film, undemanding, lightly humorous and with enough clues to keep you interested.
This is a cosy Sunday afternoon crossword kind of film, undemanding, lightly humorous and with enough clues to keep you interested. Director and writer Rémi Bezançon (The First Day of the Rest of Your Life, 2008; and the animation Zarafa, 2012) adapted the novel by David Foenkinos into a screenplay. He told ExBerliner that he was intrigued by “the idea of this enigmatic library of refused and forgotten manuscripts. I found the idea very poetic.” He also liked the notion of the literary investigation “which was actually a small part of the novel” that he expanded in the film version.
The premise concerns a book, The Last Hours of a Love Story, written by a Breton pizza maker called Henri Pick. When the manuscript is discovered by young editor Daphne (Alice Isaaz) in a quaint library of books rejected by publishers, she recognises its potential and it becomes an instant sensation.
The protagonist is literary critic Jean-Michel Rouche who hosts a book show on TV. He’s arrogant, self-centred and a snob. A cultural elitist, he simply can’t believe the book was penned by a small town pizza maker. His characterisation, deliberately overplayed by Fabrice Luchini is pitched to farce. It’s all a bit mannered and reduces sympathy for him, especially in the romantic sub plot. Do we care if he gets a nice and younger girlfriend?
What’s good is that the film knows exactly what it is aiming for, a gentle, comical mystery story for literary lovers. The warm-lit locations around a small French town are pleasant to spend time in as Jean-Michel follows his treasure trail in pursuit of the real author of The Last Hours of a Love Story. His obsessive search starts with overtones of Hercule Poirot then when he hooks up with Henri Pick’s daughter (Josephine played by Camille Cottin) the action becomes more like a caper version of The Da Vinci Code.
Josephine is just one of many suspected ghost writers and Jean-Michel’s insistence on building a case to incriminate almost everyone he meets is a good comedic thread. His journey through small town Brittany takes him well out of his elitist comfort zone. He’s ruffled but barely dented by the experience as he trawls through encounters with many eccentric characters and a book club for crime novel fans. It’s amusing but you wish Jean-Michel’s obtuseness took more of a hit, and he’d be more deeply changed.
One good reason to watch films from other countries is to be taken into other cultures and social settings. In The Mystery of Henri Pick we are shown aspects of small town French life, specifically Brittany, contrasting with Paris sophistication. And, annoying as our hero is, if you get as far as setting out on his detective hunt, you’ll be compelled to follow him to the last reveal.