Portraits Chinois Review

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Two costume designers vie for the latest collection, whilst clandestine affairs result in romanitc entanglements.


Film Four has joined forces with a clutch of French companies to sponsor this sprightly French language comedy that, mercifully, has none of the tiptoeing political correctness and thematic turgidity of your average Euro pudding.

Bonham Carter has no problem with the lingo here as an English fashion designer working in Paris at Maison Jean-Claude Brialy. He's not lost his touch and she's jealous that he's turned to bottom-runger Bohringer to rustle up his latest collection instead of her. But she goes an even deeper shade of green when she discovers that Bohringer has been dating her writer lover (Jean-Philippe Ecoffey) who is, consequently, late with his script for director Miki Manojlovic.

This is merely the central strand of the plot, but Dugowson cross-stitches the other threads together with the practised ease of someone who obviously took notes while watching their Eric Rohmer and Woody Allen movies. Everyone looks good, lives well and chatters in an airy, arty way without saying much. The cast bounce off each other well; Zylberstein is particularly impressive as a shopaholic who tries to emerge from the shadow of her over-achieving buddies by staging an alternative cabaret that is quite wonderful in its awfulness. But it's Bonham Carter who holds the piece together, the new-found confidence she seems to have found since Mighty Aphrodite auguring well.

This is a very different film from Dugowson's earlier Mina Tannenbaum, but it confirms she's definitely a talent worth watching. More importantly, this proves that there's a new generation of auteurs making the kind of intelligent, talkative films we've come to expect from Rohmer and the like.

Dugowson earns her stripes as a director and writer in this entertaining French comedy boasting some unexpected performances.