Le Big Chill: Little White Lies

08/22/2012 4:00 AM |

Little White Lies
Directed by Guillaume Canet

Complex as a novel, Little White Lies takes its time to unfold and make a statement about the transience of life that is quiet but unexpectedly profound. There’s nothing like unexpected heartache to throw petty bullshit into sharp relief. Though the movie meanders frivolously, a late event gives new resonance to all that came before it—especially the frivolousness.

A group of articulate but directionless friends reunite at a sprawling house, all shaken by a recent tragedy involving a loved one. That’s the plot both here and in Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill, another film acutely sensitive to body language and multilayered dialogue (and, though it made more sense there, also boasting a great Motown soundtrack). But where The Big Chill was a frank attempt to define a generation, Lies has more muted ambitions, studying how its characters react to stress and deal with loss. There are the expected trials with romance and sex, but they are considered in frank, adult terms. This is a French film, after all.

And it’s hard to imagine director Guillaume Canet compiling a more impressive cast of French actors than he has here. Marion Cotillard and Francois Cluzet anchor the film with performances that are totally without artifice, even in moments of great emotional complexity. (Jean Dujardin, newly famous from The Artist, appears in a pivotal role, though not to the extent publicity materials have implied.) They are amply supported by the rest of the large cast, almost to a fault. The film’s admirable attention to even minor characters ends up working against it; at more than two and a half hours, it feels bloated.

This is Canet’s follow-up to 2006’s Tell No One, and he brings some of that brilliant thriller’s style to bear here, as when he subtly comments on his characters’ dwindling options with images of boats stranded on a breach by receding tides. And of course in the masterful opening shot, about which I will say nothing—except that it will be forever referenced when singe takes are discussed.

Opens August 24