DIR: Agnès Jaoui • WRI: Jean-Pierre Bacri, Agnès Jaoui • PRO: Alexandre Mallet-Guy • DOP. Lubomir Bakchev • ED: Fabrice Rouaud • MUS: Fernando Fiszbein • CAST: Agathe Bonitzer, Arthur Dupont, Agnès Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Benjamin Biolay
The reimagining of fairytales is everywhere this decade – it feels like only yesterday (but was in fact, this time last month) that I was contemplating how Maleficent, alongside Frozen, Snow White and the Huntsman and Red Riding Hood, is playing out this trend on the Hollywood mainstage, to varying degrees of success. But lest we forget the point of origin, European filmmakers have been playing with convention, too – last year’s Blancanieves from Spain gave the story of Snow White a number of quirky twists and updates, and now the formidable French satirists Agnes Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri present their take, Under the Rainbow.
Under the Rainbow suggests a wittier, more subversive approach to the fairytale elements it plays with – even the title, presented in a whimsical font, literally grounds the story beneath the aspirational horizons of folkloric projection and in ‘the real world.’ Lovelorn Laura encounters the shy composer Sandro at a glamorous ball exactly in the style of a dream she has had. But as their families meet and mix, and the mysterious Maxime fatefully enters the fold, will the two live happily ever after?
Agnes Jaoui infuses the film with a distinctive visual style, peppering the film with impressionistic paintings which fade into the drab surroundings of the world of the film – the entrance to the driving school, a concrete slab of a building – neatly linking into the film’s idea that romance fades into humdrum mediocrity. Under the Rainbow is not subtle with its allusions – the man we view as the primary antagonist is named Maxime Wolff, first encountered when advising the red-haired, red-hooded Laura which route to take at a forked path in the forest. There are also a number of visual gags referencing old stories such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, which do little for developing the story and feel a little inconsequential.
There is a slight but pleasing distraction of a subplot between Laura’s aunt Marianne and Sandro’s father Pierre (played by co-writers Jaoui and Bacri) when the latter offers to teach the former to drive. Although this development between the two pays dividends at the denouement of the film, it does sometimes feel as if it was scrapped in from another film, its themes linking only tangentially to the rest of Under the Rainbow, affording the writers (and director) to show some of the film’s subtler character development.
There are a number of interesting ideas that Jaoui and Bacri throw at the wall that could have stuck with a little more work – Laura’s mother’s attempts to be ‘the fairest of them all’ through cosmetic creams and surgeries; Marianne’s daughter’s preoccupation with the Bible, a funny counterpoint to other children’s love of fairytales. Jaoui and Bacri have form in dealing with these kinds of characters and ideologies clashing and complementing each other in unexpected ways, but the wit is slight, underdeveloped, like jokes without punchlines or parables without a lesson to learn at the end.
This feels applicable to the film’s ending, too, subverting the expected tropes of both the fairytale and its contemporary counterpart, the romantic comedy. In theory, it’s a bold move and a pleasant surprise, but the way in which it is executed, with little to no build-up, almost causes the film to lean back the other way: ending the way it does is as unbelievable as the fairytales the rest of the film tears apart.
Stylish and witty, Under the Rainbow has some interesting notions about the stories we tell and the influence of those stories on our actions and behaviour, though they are rather undeveloped and lack the edge of Jaoui and Bacri’s previous outings. Nobody ever asks to see a second draft of a fairytale, but with some revision, this could have been a slicker, neater takedown of those classic, simple tropes, and why the world shouldn’t get too carried away in their narratives. Somewhere, Under the Rainbow, the meeting of reality and fairytale could have had a bite as deliciously poisonous as Snow White once took from an apple.
15A See IFCO for details)
Under the Rainbow is released 27thJune 2014