As French villagers contemplate disrobing for art and attention, this warm-hearted comedy endeavours to balance charm and cliché.
The cast of Normandy Nude.
Two decades after The Full Monty tasked Sheffield residents with stripping their way out of their struggles, Normandy Nude heads to France to do the same. With a dash of Calendar Girls as well, the film gives a rural town’s inhabitants the opportunity to disrobe, all in the name of art. Known for snapping the masses sans clothing in striking surroundings, famous American photographer Newman (Toby Jones, Journey’s End) is only thinking about his picture when he picks one of the village’s fields for his next shoot, but mayor Georges Balbuzard (François Cluzet, School of Life) has the bigger picture in mind. When efforts to stir up a media outcry about flagging meat and dairy prices fall flat otherwise, he’s certain that hundreds of naked Normans will elicit some attention.
With Philippe Le Guay (Floride) both writing and directing based on his own original idea – with screenplay assistance from Olivier Dazat (Le Chef) and a collaboration credit going to Victoria Bedos (The Bélier Family) – Normandy Nude proceeds exactly as its comic premise suggests. Georges’ suggestion divides the town, augmenting existing problems and rifts among both lifelong residents and newcomers alike. To strip or not to strip is not the village’s only worry.
Accordingly, neighbouring farmers Eugene (Philippe Rebbot, L'amour flou) and Maurice (Patrick d’Assumcao, The Apparition) rekindle a decades-old family feud over the patch of land in question. Local butcher Roger (Gregory Gadebois, Redoubtable) doesn’t want his attractive wife Gisele (debutant Lucie Muratet) involved under any circumstances. Parisian transplants Thierry (Francois-Xavier Demaison, Wedding Unplanned), Valerie (Julie-Anne Roth, French TV’s Remember) and their teenage daughter Chloe (Pili Groyne, The Brand New Testament) have varying reactions, while returning cyclist Vincent (Arthur Dupont, Grand froid) happens to be the son of the former town photographer. He also happens to strike up a romance with cheese-factory worker Charlotte (Daphné Dumons, Les ogres).
Just as the narrative’s course is never in question, neither are the traits, behaviours and actions of its assorted figures. Surprises are absent at both the story and character level, and tension along with it; however in avoiding the unexpected, Normandy Nude wholeheartedly embraces its obvious but affectionate formula. Indeed, while the film’s template and clichés are always evident, it still radiates the charm inherent in its various components. Underdog tales, small-town battlers fighting society’s crushing forces and quirky pulls of one’s bootstraps fall into the tried-and-tested camp for a reason, and here they’re warmly deployed rather than gratingly or frayingly well-worn.
Within such parameters, the cast all bring colour rather than depth to the movie’s motley crew of villagers. The script doesn’t call for anyone to delve far beyond the surface, although, afforded the most screen time, Cluzet gifts more texture to Georges than is seen elsewhere. Still, Dupont and Dumons give their love story the requisite spark, and Rebbot and d’Assumcao paint their feud with the appropriate stubbornness – in very broad strokes, of course, like so much of Normandy Nude.
As he did with The Women on the 6th Floor back in 2010, Le Guay lends a keen eye to the world he’s stepping into. The narrative rarely feels realistic, and nor do its laughs, but the locale always feels authentic. Alas, cinematographer Jean-Claude Larrieu’s (The Bookshop) evocative shots often clash with both the film’s clumsier twists – throwing up a news report about the link between cancer and eating meat just when the townsfolk are wavering, for example – and its uneven tone. Normandy Nude finds its picture, but doesn’t always know how to fill it convincingly.
2 ½ stars ★★☆
Director: Philippe Le Guay
France, 2018, 105 mins
Release date: November 29