Cinema Signal:

French Film:
Texts and Contexts

. "God is Great... and I'm Not" (aka, "Dieu est grand, je suis toute petite")

There's much to criticize about this somewhat farcical romantic comedy from France that followed quickly on the heels of the smash hit, "Amelie," but the talent, beauty and pixieish whimsy of Audrey Tautou isn't something I'd call to task -- even if it is a bald attempt to repeat the character by way of her singular quality of high energy adorability.

Michelle (Tautou) is a fashion model with a need for a spiritual base. When veterinarian Francois meets her she's coming off a relationship that leaves her feeling empty and in search of fulfillment. She basically kisses off this aspiring suitor in order to pray in church. But this non-practicing Jew realizes the effect she has had on him and follows her into the pews. Cut, and they're in his apartment making love. This is Paris.

But, when she attempts suicide shortly after the tryst, he's enraged by the uncouth behavior of doing this in a relative stranger's home. He spouts off on his anger at her but given the chance at a second meeting he's all too ready to make it a full blown affair. The ensuing romance appears to have potential until she upsets him again by starting to observe the Jewish customs he long ago rejected. Realizing that she's in the process of converting because of his heritage, and that it puts unwelcome pressure on issues that are too serious, he flies off.

When his love for the curly haired pixie overcomes his mortification over the religious issue, the comedic line that follows has to do with the couple's immersion into classes in Judaism, she with delighted devotion, he with tired yawns. But, the relationship endures, even through meetings with her quarrelsome parents and his orthodox ones.

After two years, she starts yearning for a child, a marriage, permanence. Here, the foundation on which the relationship has endured becomes quicksand. Her schizoid whackiness, while mostly entertaining in the early stages, take center stage and unbalance the delicate thread that separates sympathy from wearying overindulgence. Director Pascale Bailly takes his reliance on the Tautou personality too far and despite a sparkle that can challenge sunlight, her Michelle loses us.

Call it directorial error because there's no way I'm going to negate the Tautou captivation. She had me so securely in her magical grasp, I was wishing it was me on those Parisian streets and apartment sets.

Fantasy aside, Bailly's nouvelle vague approach, with editorial jumps, blackouts, exaggerated angles and often frenzied pacing hardly helped the narrative flow. His full screen closeups of Michelle's "diary" as a device to label sections as chapters seems a borrowing from a different picture. Rather than deepen our appreciation of the character, they were a distraction, as is a first-time director who tries too hard to single himself out as an innovator.

Co-star Edouard Baer is good. Tautou is great. The packaging is not.

[Released theatrically in 2002; Reviewed on DVD in 2004]

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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