- NZ LISTENER -
The Mystery of Henri Pick is both an exceptional French film and exceptionally French.
Its hero, such as he is, is a famed literary critic. Its mystery is whether some provincial restaurateur could also be a genius novelist. It spends much of its time poking about Brittany (lovely, especially the cemetery) when it's not attending book-trade soirées in Paris where publishers complain: "France has more writers than readers."
It's a movie about unloved books and how some end up at the delightfully named La Bibliothèque des Livres Refusés. It's a library where dejected writers can entomb their rejected manuscripts.
It's also, of course, a movie of a book - the work of bestselling Parisian novelist-screenwriter David Foenkinos, originally published in 2016 and now out in English - and one that seems to have translated nicely to the screen with the pace of an intriguing page-turner. That's but for a flat ending, a denouement that's a bit too much of a Gallic shrug for the movie's own good. But what precedes it is great fun, a who-wrote-it comedy thriller that neatly skewers literary pretensions and the book trade's desperation for the next big thing.
When ambitiously young publisher Daphné Despero (Alice Isaaz) finds a manuscript among that library's rejects, she realises that not only has she stumbled upon a great unpublished novel, but it's also one with a story behind it.
Monsieur Pick, the author, has been dead for two years. He lived a quiet life running a local pizza café, where no one saw him read or write much, including his bookworm daughter Joséphine (Camille Cottin).
Once published, The Last Hours of a Love Affair, with its allusions to Alexander Pushkin, becomes a sensation.
But when on his arts talkshow, powerful presenter-critic Jean-Michel Rouche (Fabrice Luchini) goes overboard with his scepticism about the author's bona fides, he's fired and his wife leaves him. So he heads off on a mission to prove he's right.
That involves an unlikely alliance with Joséphine and encounters with Despero and her failed novelist boyfriend Fréderéic Koska (Bastien Bouillon). Luchini helps make Rouche an engaging mix of insufferable and charming, and the odd-couple chemistry and repartee between him and Cottin's Joséphine adds a much-needed human touch to the film's highbrow capers.
- Russell Baillie, NZ LISTENER
The Mystery of Henri Pick is in NZ cinemas now, and opens in Australia 29 October!