Le Grand Froid

French fun and flair in 'Little White Lies,' Guillaume Canet's European version of 'The Big Chill.'

Marion Cotillard 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Marion Cotillard 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Little White Lies
Written and directed by Guillaume Canet
Hebrew title: Shkarim levanim ktanim
154 minutes.
In French
Check with theaters for subtitle information.
Little White Lies, a French retread of the 1983 American hit film The Big Chill, is an enjoyable (if at times a bit improbable) ensemble drama about a group of friends on a vacation. The better you remember The Big Chill, the more you’ll be aware how slavishly Little White Lies emulates that film. But Little White Lies manages to update that nearly threedecades old hit movie effectively. Director Guillame Canet (also a wellknown actor) has made a stylish, compulsively watchable entertainment.
The original Big Chill featured a group of friends who had all studied together in college during the more politically radical days of the late 1960s/early 1970s and who struggled ever since with joining the mainstream. But Little White Lies does not have such a clear focus, and it isn’t obvious how the characters got to know each other and why they became so close. This is the central weakness of the film. Although everyone hugs frequently and talks about their bond, it’s hard to believe that these people would spend vacations together year after year.
In order to enjoy the film, you simply have to accept the friendship as a given, and it’s worth it to see the excellent acting and gorgeous scenery of the Cap Ferret resort area, where most of the film takes place. In recent years, the French have come out with a number of movies that are set on vacations, and it’s no wonder: They get a whole month every year, unlike workaholic Americans who make do with two weeks, which many high-powered professionals don’t even take.
So every year, this group of Parisian friends goes to Max’s Cap Ferret house, which is large enough to accommodate everyone. Max (Francois Cluzet) is a high-strung businessman whose marriage to the earnest organic-food enthusiast Vero (Valerie Bonneton) is on shaky ground. Max, who has always felt that everyone casually freeloads off of him at vacation time (and who may be right), is pushed to a crisis right before they leave Paris when one of the tight-knit group, Vincent (Benoit Magimel), a physical therapist, confides that, while he is not gay, he is in love with Max.
But the group is tested by an even bigger crisis: On the eve of their vacation, the charismatic center of their group, Ludo (Jean Dejardin), gets into a lifethreatening motorcycle crash while he is driving, high on cocaine, after a night of partying at a club. The accident is the centerpiece of the film the way Alex’s suicide was in The Big Chill.
Oddly, here, instead of taking shifts visiting their dear friend, the characters decide to go on a twoweek vacation rather than their usual month, on the theory that the nearly comatose Ludo will appreciate seeing them more once he feels a little better. The flaw in their reasoning is a bit too obvious, but it’s one of the titular little white lies.
For the rest of the film, the characters divide their time between enjoying the spectacular vacation pleasures (boats, waterskiing, eating fabulous meals with great wine – no Chinese takeout on Cap Ferret) and hashing out their emotional dilemmas.
Max is understandably wary of Vincent, while Vincent’s wife, Lea (Louise Monot), worries about Vincent’s lack of sexual interest in her. Ludo’s former girlfriend, Marie (Marion Cotillard, the director’s real-life girlfriend), a free-spirited anthropologist, cannot make a commitment to any other man.
Eric (Gilles Lellouche), a successful actor (just like the Tom Berenger character in The Big Chill), cheats on his girlfriend and suffers the consequences. And all these dramas are accompanied by pleasant pop and classic rock tunes, including a song from The Big Chill soundtrack.
Marion Cotillard, the French beauty who is the new French “it” girl – dethroning Juliette Binoche, Sophie Marceau and Audrey Tautou – dominates all the scenes she is in with her understated but mesmerizing presence. If you didn’t see her in her Oscar-winning turn as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, then you’ve probably seen her opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception.
In the end, in spite of its derivative nature, Little White Lies will transport you on a brief mini-vacation.