Both Sides of the Channel

On the English side the pace was glacial, it truly was. Sometimes a ponderous gait is not a negative and ‘The Bookshop’ did have its pluses. Any movie featuring Bill Nighy is worth consideration and this film also demonstrates that nothing much changes with the world – that the you and me types will always be shat on from great heights as soon as we poke our heads above the ramparts. In the class wars, only the high and mighty win out. Hollywood, in fact all cinema, thrives in the little guy/gal overcoming this supposition, but that’s not reality, is it? Would it happen in this offering from Old Blighty?

The little East Anglian village of Hardborough, in 1959, seemed ripe for a bookshop. A semi-derelict building on the high street, known locally as simply the Old House, seemed the perfect location. As Florence (Emily Mortimer in a performance that requires little more than going through the motions) gets its development underway, it comes to the attention of the ville’s queen-pin, Violet. Playing her is American actress Patricia Clarkson and I was looking forward to seeing her in action again after her stealing the show in ‘The Party’. Here she’s the chief villain of the piece, but her role is muted and colourless in comparison. The lady of the manor once thought that the Old House would be perfect as an artistic hub, a drawcard for the town. But she’d done little about it. When Florence comes on the scene the notion is revitalised and Violet suddenly takes it on herself to try and thwart Florence at every step. At first the shop owner does okay selling books. She finds she has an ally in Mr Edmund Brundish (Nighy) who comes to her aid, initially, when she has to decide whether or not to stock the controversial ‘Lolita’. They come down soon the side of definitely, although her largish order seems a tad extreme for a place so small. But it wasn’t fault with the garnering of product to sell that threatens to do her in. Violet, when her machinations to ruin Florence have all been batted away, hits on the idea of backing someone to open up in opposition. Will this be the ploy that brings the uppity Florence to heel?

There’s a hint of romantic spark between the widow Florence and the reclusive Brundish. Will that ease the bookseller’s pain at the loss of her husband? This is real ‘Heartbeat’ territory in the village cast it throws up – but, unfortunately, without the whimsy. The big question is – will we have a ‘Heartbeat’ ending? Based on an award winning book by Penelope Fitzgerald, it takes an eternity to get there. When it came I found I didn’t really care.

Crossing to the French side, ‘Aurore’ is a different kettle of fish altogether. We’re almost immediately smitten by Agnes Jaoui in her eponymous role here. It will almost certainly be recalled as her signature outing. She’s no classic beauty, to be sure, but there is just something about Aurore. It helps, of course, that she’s French and we’re increasingly attracted to the bewitching woman as her platform gets its narrative underway. There’s a certain earthy sexiness about her; a mature woman and distinctively stunning. She’s battling to make ends meet, a boss who wants her to be even more sexy, a hubby divorcing her and hot flushes indicating ‘change-of-life’. Oh yes, she’s about to become a grandmother too and she’s not really sure she knows what to think about that.

I know I’m a sucker for anything French and romantic, but I adored this film. Just when Aurore’s life couldn’t get any more complicated along comes not one, but two men who vie, in various ways, for her attention. The fact that sparking the flame doesn’t come easy for all men is not shied away from in this movie either – a rarity in this industry that sees older men bedding younger damsels at the drop of a hat.

Writer and director Blandine Lenoir has created a fine feature keeping it real and believable in contrast to so much that is light, fluffy, sudsy and totally too good to be true in rom-com land. ‘Aurore’ has received critical plaudits around the world, largely due to the lead’s performance, although Pascale Arbillot, as her sidekick Mano, for many of her hit and miss adventures, deserves kudos as well. Now there’s a dame with front.

I could have stayed with ‘Aurore’, her family, mates and wannabe lovers for much longer. Seeing this must have you leaving the cinema ready to take on the world with renewed vigor. The Brits, even with Nighy, were left in her wake. Far too long-winded about the tale it had to tell. Sound familiar?

Trailer for ‘The Bookshop’ =

Trailer for ‘Aurore’ =

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