TIFF Review: 'C'est la vie!'

C’est la vie! (Le sens de la fête)
(France, 115 min.)
Written and directed by Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano
Starring: Jean-Paul Bacri, Gilles Lellouche, Jean-Paul Rouve, Eye Haïdara, Suzanne Clément
Programme: Galas (World Premiere)
Courtesy of TIFF
Thank goodness for subtitles. There was so much laughter at TIFF’s Closing Night Gala presentation of C’est la vie! that those of us in the audience might not have had a clue what was going on without the aid of subtitles. Loud and consistent laughter rippled throughout Roy Thomson Hall from beginning to end of C’est la vie! and often drowned out the French dialogue that had TIFF-goers in stitches. This warm and hilarious comedy from directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano (The Intouchables, Samba) was a perfect choice to close a successful edition of the Festival. It's a lot of fun.

C’est la vie! offers a buffet of comedic canapés as Nakache and Toledano serve up a sprightly comedy that takes audiences behind the scenes of an extravagant wedding party. The boss of the operation is Max (Jean-Paul Bacri), a grumbling wet blanket who wants out of the event planning business after decades of pleasing couples at the compromise of his sanity. Everyone wants extravagant affairs and they want them on the cheap. This wedding, however, is a feast of opulence and excess that lets the master transform a French château into a mecca of marital bliss.

Nakache and Toledano deliver something akin to Altman for the masses as the sprawling ensemble comedy introduces a peanut gallery of characters who test Max’s patience but pull through in the end. Joisette (Canadian actress Suzanne Clément), for example, gives Max a headache he doesn’t need in the workplace when she shrugs off their long-time affair, which is the worst kept secret in the workplace, and cozies up to a young waiter to make him jealous. The front of house staff (Eye Haïdara) makes one “You should have seen the look on your face!” joke after another and raises false alarms galore while Max runs around putting out fires set by the motley crew. The DJ (Gilles Lellouche) is a boorish performer who doesn’t exactly fit the groom’s direction of “chic and elegant,” while the oafish wedding photographer (Jean-Paul Rouve) spends more time scarfing hors d’oeuvres than snapping pics.

Everything that could go wrong does go wrong in this energetic and madcap farce. An upstairs/downstairs dynamic keeps Max running around the grand château like a lively fire fighter and conductor who douses disasters while wrangling his musicians to deliver a memorable performance that betrays not a hint of all the madness that occurs behind the scenes. A few tricks of the trade show the event planner in his element, while also paying tribute to the working class service staffs working tirelessly on their feet to cater to the whims of clients who demand perfection.

Nakache and Toledano, consummate entertainers in their own right, offer something for everyone in this light-hearted and accessible comedy. This giddy portrait of the team behind the massive wedding party might be warm and bubbly, but the filmmakers keep the jokes on the pulse of contemporary France with political correctness getting a hefty skewering and with the old stock Max finding some perspective in terms of how he treats his employees and the women in his life. Nakache and Toledano continue to offer diverse and inclusive casts that illustrate France’s multiculturalism, and while there isn’t a breakout discovery in the cast in the way that The Intouchables launched Omar Sy as an international star, they find a great ensemble of actors and characters who work in perfect harmony to satisfy the audience. We’re in good hands and company as Max and his team cater to our needs. C’est la vie! pours a fizzy flute of French champagne and keeps the bubbles flowing.

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TIFF runs Sept. 7-17. Visit TIFF.net for more info on this year’s festival.