Barbara (Louise Bourgoin) – intelligent, ambitious and gorgeous – is a post-graduate student, while Nicolas (Pio Marmaï), replete with boyish charm, is a clerk in a video store. After a humorous courtship in the video store where Nicolas works, the pair begin a passionate romance that grows into relationship bliss. They frolic, they dine, they paint walls together and all too quickly they find themselves enthusiastically, if not slightly nervously, embarking on their biggest joint venture yet – their first child. But what begins as a life step they decide to embrace with joyful abandon, quickly starts to change shape (both figuratively and literally) as Barbara’s tummy swells with their unborn child and new pressures start to weigh on their relationship.
FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL: Remi Bezancon’s increasingly cloudy romantic comedy plays clever with its inherent lightness. It begins as lightly as you imagine it will go on, with that old trope of the video store clerk, Nico (Pio Marmai), who puts his viewing habits to work trying to get a date with the beautiful young graduate student, Barbara (Louise Bourgoin), who regularly fronts his counter. He suggestively holds up Francis Ford Coppola’s One From the Heart, she dismissively rents Jean Renoir’s Le Grande Illusion. Nico happens to be most handsome video store clerk ever – scientific fact! – so eventually love blooms.
It is the kind of meet cute situation that must be played with genuine élan; to think twice is to expose the staging and wires. But the tone it sets is gently but steadily pulled asunder by Bezancon’s film, which was adapted by Vanessa Portal and the filmmaker from the novel by Eliette Abercassis. After such a star-crossed opening, where the protagonists are intoxicated by each other as much as the audience is by the visual charm of the sequence, that moment dissipates during a protracted campaign of pregnancy, childbirth and baby raising that saps the couple’s love. It’s an unenviable quandary: were they fooling themselves as to what they possessed, or is their situation insurmountable?
Much of the first and second act is boilerplate materials directed with comic zest: Barbara’s former hippy mother, Claire (Josiane Balasko), laughs at her daughter’s parenting potential ('poor kid,’ she laments to her daughter’s face), hormones get crazy, and the midwife must dispense some tough love after the parents are confused by which expensive and overly complicated stroller to buy. But stray concerns suggest a more nuanced outlook as Barbara wonders if she even has maternal instincts as she finishes a thesis on Wittgenstein where the philosophical 'other" she writes about in his work grows in her own belly and begins to direct her life.
There are honest observations made funny – new parents tend to argue in whispers because they live in mortal fear of waking their offspring – but the movie also has a thankfully unassuming outlook on certain under acknowledged realities: childbirth is shockingly painful, first time mothers are thrown into the deep end with little assistance. 'The bottle is the enemy," Barbara is told at her mother’s group, and certain cultural issues particular to French debate are hashed out as the sheen of dusky blue light that hangs over the film turns to a darker tone. It doesn’t lessen the movie, but a degree of universality is lost.
Bourgoin is exceptionally well attuned to the character – emotions spill over her face – and that guides the scenes of struggle that descend into argument and despair. There is no turning point, but at a certain moment, through the best of intentions, the two characters on screen only vaguely resemble the nascent couple from the first scene. Bezancon is not trying to be subversive – he’s actually saying that this is the everyday reality, that love is wondrous but it can be lost, parenthood is rewarding but deeply trying, and that not every family hangs together. Eventually the laughter catches in your throat and A Happy Event rings true for long enough to stick with you before everything comes good.