After watching "Les Petits Mouchoirs", I should probably warn you that it's a journey. Clocking at about two-and-a-half hours with mostly just talking, some will like it, and some will hate it. Personally, I liked it, even though it's far from flawless. If there were ever such thing as the perfect French ensemble, this film has it. With Marion Cotillard and François Cluzet, two of France's top actors, in leading roles, and a supporting character played by Jean Dujardin (although he isn't in it too often), I never dreamed something like this would ever happen. Yet here it is.
The film begins with Ludo (Dujardin) partying all night long, hopping on his motorcycle to go home, and then getting hit by a truck. His large group of friends, all close for over a decade, become worried sick-- yet none of them can seem to sacrifice a beach vacation that Max (Cluzet) and his wife (Valérie Bonneton) offer every year.
We don't think much of this-- after all, all of the friends seem like nice enough people, and as soon as we get a look at the beach house and the view, we're sucked in too. But it's a problem.
These friends have had such long, complex relationships that they can't seem to tell each other their true feelings, and so basically, everyone's lying to each other. Marie (Cotillard) still has feelings for Ludo; Vincent (Benoît Magimel), who's married with two kids, can't help but tell Max that he has a crush on him; Eric (Gilles Lellouche) is dumped by his girlfriend but is too embarrassed to share; and Antoine (Laurent Lafitte) asks his friends for advice on how to win his girlfriend back but he won't share any big details. In essence, these are all "little white lies", but how long can they last?
Even from the beginning of "Les Petits Mouchoirs", you can tell something catastrophic is going to happen, whether or not a friendship ends or a misunderstanding gets out of control. But as we sit there expecting it, Canet makes us wait, and instead of everything happening abruptly, he takes his time, letting us get to know these characters, while letting them get to realize each others issues. Yet there's a tension that remains because we feel a sense of dread but we don't know when it's coming; we can't help but care because this group of friends are no different than most. All of the acting is terrific; these are wonderfully realized roles.
The characters are developed gradually, and in a way that makes them look flawed, maybe even giving us the idea that we'd see them walking down the street (even the eternally beautiful Cotillard looks a bit more normal here). Some of these people we like, and some of them we don't, but either way the actors pull off that task of really looking like friends. And when you have a "The Big Chill"-esque idea like this one, that's a very important component. Canet in turns directs with warmth, and in others, harsh realism.
If it was just a teeny bit shorter, "Les Petits Mouchoirs" could be perfect. But when we live in a world where movies don't even attempt to be as complex and real as this one, it's hard to even complain. Setting all problems aside, there's many moments of brilliance that eventually, outweigh the issues.