“Inspired by the films of Stanley Donen and Jacques Demy.”
That’s the line in the summary of Footnotes that enticed me. Donen and Demy are two of the very best movie musical directors of all time. Donen has Singin’ In The Rain and On The Town to his name, Demy has The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls Of Rochefort. Vibrant, joyous, choreographed to perfection; a film which cites these masterpieces as its main influence can’t be all bad, right?
There’s an old cheesy adage that goes, ‘Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars’. Well, by announcing these legends as inspiration, first time writer-directors Paul Calori and Kostia Testut certainly are shooting for the moon. Where they land, however, is far, far below the stars…
Julie (Pauline Etienne) is fed up. Despite her hard work, she’s just been let go from her latest job at a discount shoe shop. As always, the reason cited was the recession. And so once more, she’s condemned to the dispiriting world of job-hunting. The hunt doesn’t last long, as she’s quickly given a job in the warehouse of Jacques Couture, a luxury shoemaker. Though she’s thrilled to have another shot at a permanent contract, rumours of a downsizing at Jacques Couture, and her new colleagues flurry of industrial action puts our heroine in a difficult position.
Julie is initially hesitant to risk the job she’s only just earned by joining the picket line. But the comradeship of her new friends, and a flirtation with a handsome bus driver, tempt her into the fight.
There is so much wrong with Footnotes, it’s hard to know where to start. The bulk of the film’s many problems stem from it feeling half-baked, and generally underdeveloped.
This is exhibited most obviously in the romance (such as it is), between Julie and Samy (Olivier Chantreau). There’s no chemistry there. The relationship seems to come from a place of desperation and box-ticking. Movie musicals need a central couple, especially if you’re ‘inspired’ by great romantics like Demy and Donen. But like a real relationship, a movie relationship needs work. You need to see two developed characters connecting. You need passion. You need a vibrant painting of a pairing, and what Footnotes gives us is a pencil sketch. With some parts erased.
The only time that Footnotes threatens to become interesting is at its opening, as it shows how difficult it can be for low-skilled workers to gain employment. It’s the eternal ‘You need a job to get experience, but you need experience to get a job’ conundrum, and for a few minutes, it looks like Footnotes is going to explore this unfairness in illuminating detail.
And then Julie gets a job, and it all stops. She becomes completely capricious about her attitude to her employment and the strikes. She vacillates wildly; one day she is determined to toe the line, the next she’s Jimmy Hoffa, and then she goes back to being a company woman. There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. It’s like all the scenes that involve her thinking, or showing any kind of character have been left on the cutting room floor. And it’s hard to get behind someone who doesn’t have any character.
And there aren’t any other memorable personalities to pick up the slack. Early on there’s a scene where Sophie (Julie Victoire), a secretary at Jacques Couture, introduces the other women who work in the factory, who are huddled in her office complaining at their boss about the downsizing rumours. She names them, though it’s unclear which of the multiple women in shot she is talking about. She then gives them one word characteristics; ‘Kind’ ‘Dumb’ etc.
But because you don’t know to whom she’s referring, and because no character seems to have any such personality (even the one-note personality that this introduction would suggest), the other women in this film never become anything more than an amorphous mass. It made me think of Made In Dagenham, another film about striking female factory workers. That film gives you a variety of different characters, all convincing as living, breathing human beings. Footnotes can’t even conjure up one.
You know those clips that go viral at the beginning of summer, where schoolkids get together and record a music video? And they can be quite impressive considering they have no budget, no choreographer, are made by children and are often filmed on a mobile phone? (Here’s an example).
Well, Footnotes is like a feature length version of those three-minute videos. Except it’s not impressive, because these are adults, there is a budget, a proper camera, and a choreographer.
In the early minutes of the film, when I was feeling generous, it seemed potentially excusable that the dancing wasn’t exactly skillful, because these characters are meant to be ordinary people. It’d be strange if they could all dance like Gene Kelly.
But the dancing throughout (and there’s unfortunately a lot of it), remains ungainly in a way that becomes monotonous. It’s soon clear that the lack of dancing prowess on show is not an endearing character detail, just bad choreography. Limbs unartfully flail everywhere. The best moments resemble an amateur interpretive dance class. It truly is a sight to see, but not in the way Calori and Testut must have hoped.
And the music is eminently forgettable. To be fair, it isn’t out of tune. It’s not likely to make your ears bleed. But if you remember any of the songs even five minutes after they’ve finished, I’ll be very surprised.
It’s mercifully rare that a film has nothing to recommend it. The worst of cinematic endeavours tends to possess a good performance or two, or a nice bit of cinematography. Even films that are so-bad-they’re-good are at least entertaining.
Footnotes is nothing. There is nothing good here. The best I could say about this film is that it’s only seventy-eight minutes long. Sure, it feels like longer. But it’s not. Be grateful for that.
There are so many other, better ways you could spend those seventy-eight minutes. Watch two thirds of The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg. Watch the dance scene between Gene Kelly and François Dorleac in The Young Girls Of Rochefort forty times. Either option would be a much better use of your hard-earned time than Footnotes.
What’s your favourite French musical?
Footnotes is released in the US on July 14th. For all other upcoming release dates, click here.