Part Birdman, part After Hours and at least one-quarter Bedtime for Bonzo, French comic star Edouard Baer’s directorial debut is a pleasant, occasionally funny romp through the streets of late-night Paris in the hands of an overzealous theater impresario and his no-nonsense young intern. Better crafted than many Gallic comedies, if a bit unconvincing in its final reel, Open at Night (Ouvert la nuit) should see a good turnout from Baer’s local fan base and pickups in Francophonia and beyond.
Set during one roller-coaster 24-hour period, the story (written by Baer and Benoit Graffin, Priceless) follows the travails of Luigi, a fast-talking and highly seductive theater manager who has one night to save his playhouse from abandon before the opening of a new show. After being ditched by his gal Friday (Audrey Tautou), he coerces Faeza (Sabrina Ouazani), an intern on her last shift, to help him find the funds to pay off an angry cast and crew, not to mention track down a live chimpanzee to perform in the play (an avant-garde drama entitled The Woman and the Ape that’s staged by a near mute Japanese director, played by Atsuhiko Dazai).
24-hour theater people.
It’s a wacky scenario that in the hands of many a Gallic performer would fall flat on its face, but Baer – who began his career on radio and TV before moving to films – has a warm, underhanded way of delivering his lines that’s a pure antidote to the shouting and slapstick of most French comics. Likewise, his cast – and that includes the chimpanzee – never overdoes it, with strong supporting turns from Christophe Meynet (as a man in a monkey costume), Jean-Michel Lami (as a monkey trainer) and Gregory Gadebois (as a stage manager who refuses to be duped by his boss).
The tone of Open at Night was inspired by the 1985 Scorsese movie (which won the Palme d’Or and has always been popular in France), with a mix of surreal set pieces – a Bollywood film shoot, an African commune, a bar with crowd-surfing waiters – and back-alley showdowns. But Baer’s film is chattier and more concerned with Luigi as a character than with Paris as a whole, even if the city serves as a suitable, and suitably beautiful, backdrop to all the behind-the-scenes shenanigans.
While things move along convincingly until the final scenes, the conclusion feels like a cop-out compared with some of the more creative twists that preceded it, ending with a typical “the show must go on” scenario that we’ve seen plenty of times before. Still, Open at Night turns on enough whimsy to make you forget some of its flaws, and with the help of veteran DP Yves Angelo (Germinal) and editor Herve de Luze (The Pianist), Baer has made a solid first feature that coasts by on the charms of its creator.
Production companies: Les Films en Cabine, Cinefrance
Cast: Edouard Baer, Sabrina Ouazani, Audrey Tautou, Christophe Meynet, Jean-Michel Lami
Director: Edouard Baer
Screenwriters: Edouard Baer, Benoit Graffin
Producer: Barka Hjij
Director of photography: Yves Angelo
Production designer: Emmanuel de Chauvigny
Costume designers: Carine Sarfati, Chloe Lesueur
Editor: Herve de Luze
Casting directors: Stephane Foenkinos, Franzo Curcio
Sales: Le Pacte