Zeus International Production, a relatively new arrival in Taiwan's film distribution sector, has made it a point to bring mainstream French cinema to Taiwan (Season's Beatings and Read My Lips ), sending a message to the film-going public that French film need not be synonymous with art house or high-brow.
Its selection has been unashamedly aimed at the mass market and though cinephiles might sneer, these films introduce a different sensibility into the Matrix Reloaded dominated screens of Taipei.
With The Girl from Paris, Zeus has settled on another low key slice-of-life drama that comes off as something made for television; against the background of high-tech, high-concept, big-budget and megastar-driven pap currently dominating cinema screens.
The give-away is the loving attention given to the scenic beauty of the Rhone-Alps region, where this movie is set, a kind of grandeur that does not usually translate well to the small screen.
The camera work, by Antoine Heberle, is evocative without being picturesque, supporting the film's realist credentials.
Girl tells the story of Sandrine Dumez (Mathilde Seigner), a software engineer who has had enough of the big city and has decided to seek the solitude of the rural life. She has overcome the considerable bureaucratic hurdles to qualify her to become the owner of a now neglected farm deep in the foothills of the Alps, a place where the dirt road gives out to rugged mountain pasture.
Any expectation that there is going to be any city-slicker-comes-unstuck-in-rural-setting slapstick is quickly put to rest by the low-key psychological realism of the opening scenes, which deftly outlines Sandrine's character stubborn, unsentimental and unglamorous. The rural scenes are not the chocolate box type that could have been expected and reflect, perhaps, the director's own rural upbringing.
Although the pace is unhurried, Christian Carion gradually draws you into the world that Sandrine has chosen to enter -- and his eye is as unsentimental as that of his protagonist. At a training exercise for those preparing to take up life on the land, a pig is unsentimentally dispatched with a revolver bullet to the head and the blood collected for future use. In this scene that shatters the image of mundane life, Carion shows a deft touch, avoiding the pitfalls of making rural life either comic or idyllic.
Sandrine is aware of many challenges, but one she is not prepared for is Adrien (Michel Serrault), the curmudgeonly owner of the farm she is buying. With a bold-faced audacity that is the privilege of those who no longer care, he gets her to agree to his continued presence on the farm for a further 18 months after its sale.
What follows -- a duet between Serrault and Seigner -- is fairly predictable, but it is executed with a certain tough-mindedness and gentle humor that is appealing because of its relative blandness.
There is a feel-good factor at work, but the scenes of emotion, as Adrian recalls the destruction wrought by the German's during World War II and the ravages of mad cow disease are honest, standing away from the lure of tugging heart strings.
For all the pathos of Adrian's condition, he remains throughout the film a tough, misanthropic and bitterly lonely man, a man scared by an environment that he both loves and hates.
While the balance between the conventions of romance and realism sometimes get a little out of kilter, this debut film is a craftsman-like work of storytelling that manages to touch on serious issues without losing its essential lightness.