This April sees the release of Guillaume Canets’ latest film, Little White Lies (2011). Canets is probably most well known for his performance in The Beach (2000), as Étienne, but he has also received critical attention for his last feature film Tell Know One (2006).
With a vibe of The Big Chill (1983), we are introduced, in Little White Lies, to a group of dysfunctional and neurotic friends who take their annual trip away despite their fun-loving, hedonistic friend Ludo being involved in a serious car-crash. The plot is not particularly original; the device of removing a group of friends away to a more remote and intense location can be a clumsy one that leads to clichés of tired relationships being renewed and secrets revealed. This film, however, manages to largely avoid such clichés due to its breadth of characters, strong direction and over-all subtlety.
After an enjoyable opening scene of a Parisian party we see Ludo involved in a car accident in the early hours of the morning. Soon after we are introduced to a host of Ludo’s friends (each with their own neurotic tick) one of whom is the successful restaurant owner, Max. Each year, Max takes his pleasure-seeking friends to his beach house for a month long holiday. Unable to do anything for Ludo the friends decide to cut short their holiday by two weeks but believe they should still go. What is meant to be a relaxing break with old friends becomes an environment of heightened emotional tension where they reveal to each other, and themselves, the truths they have been hiding throughout the years.
Little White Lies boasts an impressive French cast including Francois Cluzet (French Kiss, Paris) as Max, Benoit Magimel (The Counsel, Traceless) as Vincent, and Inception‘s Marion Cotillard, as Marie. The cast is one of the greatest strengths of this film with some truly standout performances. In particular Joel Dupuch as the local fisherman Jean-Louis, who undeniably steals the show.
This Serio-comedy is a subtle exploration of characters and life experiences. It does not seek to answer overly profound questions but rather it explores the extent to which people delude themselves each day, even to their closest friends, out of a simple but insidious combination of fear and selfishness. They choose to opt for the ‘little white lies’ to make the day fractionally easier and the moral of the story is, of course, that when the cracks start to appear each lie serves to exacerbate them until the walls come crashing down entirely.
Cotillard, who doesn’t take centre stage in the film, is nonetheless particularly apt at playing the former lover of car-crash victim Ludo. Essentially, the character suffers from a fear of commitment, which is demonstrated deftly in the actress’s convincing depiction of a fragile, broken women with a contemporary twist. Ultimately, however, it is Max and Vincent who steal the limelight, offering some refreshing humour in the otherwise intense drama. Their story centers around the fact that, early in the narrative, Vincent confesses his love for Max and they spend the remainder of the film coping with this revelation.
There are some odd choices in the technical aspects of the film, such as the entirely English/American soundtrack that includes everything from Credence Clear Water Revival to Nina Simone. This adherence to generically popular musical taste seems to diminish the overall authenticity of the narrative and smacks faintly of a desire to be trendy. Another problem is the lack of sufficient editing that leaves the film running on for a whopping 154mins! That being said, allowing the necessary screen time for the construction of viewer empathy for the stories of six individual characters in a single film is, in itself, a challenge. Ultimately, however, it is a challenge that Canet mostly succeeds in handling impressively.
Little White Lies is hugely enjoyable with a great balance of humour and drama, a pitch-perfect cast and some beautiful direction. While it may not win any awards for originality, and the running time may inhibit viewer enjoyment, it is, nonetheless, a pleasurable and, at times, compelling experience.