Sunday, 24 April 2011

'Little White Lies' review:

Running times can be a precarious business. The recent release of Disney's 'Winnie the Pooh' left many critics feeling short-changed by a film that, ignoring shorts, was less than an hour in length - a fact which resulted in a string of low to average review scores. At the other end of the spectrum there is the French ensemble comedy-drama 'Little White Lies', which outstays its welcome over 154 minutes of forced jollity and self-indulgent boohooing.

Called 'Les petits mouchoirs' ('The Small Handkerchiefs') at home, the film was a runaway success at the French box-office, with Marion Cotillard starring alongside equally big names in the domestic cinema such as François Cluzet, Benoît Magimel, Gilles Lellouche and Valérie Bonneton. The excitement it generated can perhaps be attributed to its being director Guillaume Canet's follow-up to the 2006 international hit 'Tell No One'. Though far from being another taut thriller, 'Little White Lies' is an airy summer jaunt around pristine beaches in the company of a smug group of affluent thritysomethings.

There is a measure of tension however, as this group of Parisians embark on their annual holiday in the shadow of a road accident which has left one of their number hospitalised and in critical condition. Their decision to take the holiday calls into question the strength of the friendship group and many home truths are aired, with each character forced to confront their self-involved nature. There are tears, fist fights, boating mishaps and smashed crockery, all set to an alt-rock soundtrack which never leaves you in any doubt as to what you are supposed to feel as you weep into your pinot grigio.

The film wears its desire to be poignant on its well-tailored sleeve and ends up being irksome, but in a controlled dose 'Little White Lies' could have been more bearable. The actors, though confined to playing broad comic archetypes (the funny one, the kooky one, the uptight one, the closet homosexual one), are watchable and the whole thing is beautifully photographed by Christophe Offenstein (especially an early tracking shot through the streets of Paris at dawn). Many of the comic incidents - such as the moment one lovesick chap ploughs his speedboat into the harbour whilst struggling to answer his mobile phone - are charming and occasionally raise a chuckle, but there are too many of them and too much nothing in between. Like Peter Jackson before him, Canet has spectacularly abused final cut privilege.

I don't mind that 'Winnie the Pooh' is barely fifty minutes long, because it's a fun fifty minutes and I didn't find myself checking my watch in the cinema (a real rarity). Whilst I wouldn't chop a minute off an epic like 'Seven Samurai' and I'd love to see the rumoured five-hour director's cut of Terrence Malick's 'The Thin Red Line'. But generally films with shorter running times (around or just under the ninety minute mark) are more satisfying examples of the art: tightly paced and disciplined movies which have a clear idea of what they are trying to do and get to the point with pleasing economy.

By contrast 'Little White Lies' is an almost interminably long film and for no obvious reason. Canet could have done with shaving an hour of its running time and, if done skilfully, could have made most of the same points about his characters with greater dynamism.

'Little White Lies' has been rated '15' by the BBFC and is out now in the UK.

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