Directed by Pierre Salvadori. Starring Daniel Auteuil, José Garcia, Sandrine Kiberlain, Marilyne Canto, Michèle Moretti. (2003, R, 110 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 8, 2005
Although the action of this French movie begins when one man foils the suicide of another, Après Vous intends to be a farce, not a drama. The film never quite achieves either definition: It’s middling comedy played out by two of France’s most popular actors. While cutting through the park after work one night, Antoine (Auteuil), a restaurant maître d’, practically tumbles into Louis (Garcia), who is dangling from a tree branch by the homemade noose around his neck. Antoine acts impulsively and rushes to hoist the stranger and cut the strangulating rope. He successfully aborts the suicide, much to Louis’ dismay. Louis is down and out and grief-stricken due to the end of his love affair with a woman named Blanche (Kiberlain). Not knowing what else to do, Antoine, the impulsive hero, invites Louis home for the night, and thus begins a shaggy-dog story that contains acts of kindness, cruelty, generosity, quick thinking, and psychological transference. First, Louis remembers a suicide note he mailed to his grandparents, so the men drive through the night to retrieve the letter. After a few more wacky incidents and a trip to the hospital, Louis manages to snag for Louis a job as a sommelier at the restaurant where he works. Eventually, Antoine even hunts down Blanche’s whereabouts in a furtive attempt to get her back in Louis’ life. Never mind that it’s utterly implausible that an untrained bum can be passed off as a wine connoisseur: That’s just the most glaring example of this film’s flights of fancy that never fully take off. Après Vous is amusing but it never ramps up to the antic level of genuine farce (which has a tendency to make all implausibilities lighter than air). Thank goodness, though, the film has Auteuil, an actor whose deft versatility makes his every move worth watching. (The scene in which Antoine drunkenly argues with Louis while brandishing a limp lobster from the restaurant’s tank, whose claws flap back and forth in rhythm with his inebriated sway, is a classic of prop comedy.) Après Vous is also another example of this recent European preoccupation with the responsibilities one incurs upon saving someone’s life. (See Enduring Love and Girl on the Bridge for examples.) One waits the whole movie with the expectation of some sardonic adage about the fate of good Samaritans. Après Vous, which translates as After You, plays like some kind of weak joke in which two men keep repeating the line to each other (“No, no, monsieur, après vous”). The routine can go on forever – which is not unlike the wan conceit of this movie.