The 2010 French ensemble drama Little White Lies (Les petits mouchoirs) was a mammoth hit on home soil, raking in over $48m before going on to be nominated for two César Awards – France’s equivalent to the Oscars. So popular was it, the film’s actor-turned-director Guillaume Canet’s sequel (French title: Nous finirons ensemble) was released in May. Canet shows a real confidence behind the camera: the film’s long take opening scene is a masterclass in hand-held fluidity and he’s also skilful in juggling his talented ensemble.
They’re comprised of thirty/fortysomething middle class Parisian friends (one of whom is played by Marion Cottillard) who are rocked by the news that a member of their close-knit group (a brief turn from Academy Award winner Jean Dujardin) has been involved in a serious accident. This occurs on the verge of their yearly summer getaway in the sun, which they still – somewhat selfishly – opt to go ahead with anyway. From there the action shifts to the gorgeous sun-drenched Cap Ferret in the South West of France, where the friends congregate at the holiday home of Max (Francois Cluzet) and his wife (Valérie Bonneton). All is seemingly fine at first, but the growing discontent of the group – fuelled by the guilt of leaving their friend in hospital – puts a strain on things, and what was once a playful and fun-loving retreat begins to lose its lustre.
What you get with Little White Lies is a French version of The Big Chill, which is only underscored by Canet using a similarly classic jukebox soundtrack. Like Lawrence Kasdan’s 1983 feature, Canet also gets good mileage out of his cast. Cluzet – star of the 2011 French breakout hit The Intouchables – is fun as the stressed-out and neurotic restaurant owner, who also has to contend with the revelation that one of his married male friends has feelings towards him. The commitment-phobe Cotillaer – real-life partner to Canet – is also very strong here, and even if her character may come across as slightly shallow, she has a luminous screen presence.
Although tensions between members of the group begins to bubble-up, Little White Lies never descends into melodrama. This is largely a laid-back and picturesque adult drama, played out in the with the kind of inviting world which makes you wish you could step right through the screen into it. Canet’s only misstep is his reluctance to impose a tougher edit on the film, and at almost two and a half hours, it wouldn’t have hurt to trim a good 15/20 minutes off the total running time. This is a minor quibble however, and apart from the overlong and self-indulgent coda, the time spent in this environment almost justifies the film’s length.