I watch a lot of foreign films. I’ve frequently explained that what draws me to more international releases – as opposed to mainstream and sideline American films – is that the completed product often times feels a bit more inspired than U.S. counterparts. I’ve mostly attributed this to the American studio system – where so many releases get written for specific actors or go through what I’ve been led to believe is a rigorous studio process to customize so many elements to an actor’s or director’s or producer’s specific “wish list” – and this tends to suck some of the life out of the picture. And NOBODY ELSE BUT YOU is precisely the kind of film I celebrate discovering. While it reminds me of several U.S. domestic projects, it lives and breathes with a creative vibrancy all of its own.
Rousseau (played by Jean-Paul Rouve) is a top-selling crime novelist struggling with writer’s block. Taking a few days off to settle the terms of a distant relative’s estate, he happens across the sleepy, snow-covered village, Mouthe, better known as ‘Little Siberia.’ Once there, he stumbles into inspiration taking the form of a suicide: the small-town beauty, Candice Lecouer (Sophie Quinton), apparently downed a bottle of pills while wandering aimlessly through ‘No Man’s Land,’ a neutral territory bordering France and Switzerland, and no investigation is deemed necessary. Hoping to use elements of the woman’s background for a novel, the author begins his own inquiry into her death, and, eventually, he’ll join forces with a local police officer, Bruno Leloup (Guillaume Gouix), when both men agree that things aren’t quite what they seem.
NOBODY was written and directed by Gerald Hustache-Mathieu, and, under his capable guidance, it’s a thoroughly winning film. Much like the countrywide is draped under blankets of snow, the story is a clever whodunit concealed under several layers of mystery. Hustache-Mathieu carries the metaphor even one step further by bookending the picture with some lyrically playful footage of the stunning Ms. Quinton, photographing her (and her physical attributes) through layers of soft, cottony gauze-like material. She’s a perfect specimen – both the actress and the character she plays – and he gets tremendous mileage through telling Candice’s history through flashbacks, coupled with Rousseau’s discovery of the late woman’s diaries.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out how winning Rouve and Gouix are in their respective roles. When they meet, they’re adversaries of a sort; the young detective has been instructed by his commander, Commandant Colbert (Olivier Rabourdin), to discourage the author from disrupting their small-town status quo by turning the late Lecouer’s story into fodder for a ‘dime novel.’ Rouve’s Rousseau is so detached from the humdrum of his present reality that it’s the young detective’s first impressions – he’s shown personally affected the discovery of the beauty’s body – that compels him onward. Separately, they’re both a bit stoic and incredulous; together, they make the most unlikely crime-solving team to come along in quite awhile.
And, for that matter, the supporting cast is equally stellar at serving their respective purposes in this leisurely-told story. Rabourdin (as Colbert) delivers his lines with an almost frozen, unemotional staccato, perfectly matched for the climate he inhabits. Arsinee Khanjian shows up as Candice’s troubled therapist, Dr. Juliette Geminy, who believes that the star model may’ve been the reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe. And Clara Ponsot is absolutely infectious as the hotel receptionist with a curiously in fatuous manner of delivering customer service. It’s a winning roster of performances, all put through entertaining moves with an inventive script.
In the end, the story dangles a few threads that never quite get satisfactory coverage (I won’t go into details as that’d spoil some of the story), but it’s still a charming confection – as sweet as it can be, and even more bittersweet than necessary – all brought to a gratifying conclusion with some surprisingly personal developments for both the living and the deceased. Bravo!
NOBODY ELSE BUT YOU is produced by Dharamsala, France 2 Cinema, Canal+, and a whole host of others (check out IMDB if you’re that interested). DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled through First Run Features. The disc looks and sounds terrific, an added plus for some genuinely inspired cinematography (kudos to all production staff involved). The only special features to speak of are some brief cast and crew bios – a tremendous disappointment. Shame on you, Mr. Hustache-Mathieu! NOBODY is precisely the kind of viewing experience that could be enhanced by a commentary track as thoughtful and whimsical as the film you shot. You oughta know better! (Who knows? Maybe there’ll be a future release with some nice perks if this release gets noticed.)
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. To be fair, NOBODY ELSE BUT YOU doesn’t quite answer all of the questions it poses in the story, but that’s a small quibble with something so refreshingly dry, light, yet intoxicatingly flirtatious. Stars Rouve, Quinton, and Gouix do wonders with such slim material, and writer/director Hustache-Mathieu shows a mature hand at keeping the pace perhaps a bit slow (especially when compared to the impact of the climax for a whodunit) but reassuringly at ease throughout. This isn’t a big splash precisely because it isn’t meant to be – it’s a mildly dark comedy that teases some noir, some comedy, and even an unlikely buddy-cop picture with fish-out-of-water undertones – but it’s entirely satisfying.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the good folks at First Run Features provided me with a DVD screener of NOBODY ELSE BUT YOU by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.