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August 4, 2012

I can’t really explain why, but there are some comparisons that critics love to make with little real justification beyond common cultural references. In the case of Poupoupidou — subtitled in English as Nobody Else but You — I’ve seen both Twin Peaks and Fargo bandied about. As for Fargo, the comparison is the usual one: someone is dead and it’s snowing. On the other hand, it’s clear that writer/director Gérald Hustache-Mathieu has lifted certain plot points nearly whole from Twin Peaks and worked them into his own, charming, lightly surreal mystery. Understand that this isn’t a complaint; great artists steal, and all that.

As in Twin Peaks, we have a local rising starlet — known and seemingly beloved by all — found dead outside of town, investigated by an outsider. But this time the outsider is a moderately successful novelist, David Rousseau (Jean-Paul Rouve), who has come to the town of Mouthe — “Little Siberia”, as the locals joke — on the Franco-Swiss border to collect a nonexistent inheritance. David is also being pressured by his agent to come up with something to satisfy his publishers, and when Candice Lecoeur (Sophie Quinton) turns up in a snowbank, he decides he must stay and use this as his next story.

The mystery only deepens when the officials deem Lecoeur’s death a suicide; why would she wander out into an unclaimed border region where neither side would bother to investigate before she downed a mouthful of barbiturates? David’s not the only one with doubts, as he bumps into gendarme brigadier Bruno Leloup (Guillaume Gouix) scratching out a few clues of his own, despite the orders of Commandant Colbert (Olivier Rabourdin) that the case be closed.

The heart of David’s investigation is his journey into Candice’s past, courtesy of a series of diaries she’d kept since turning thirteen, the last of which is, naturally, missing. We look back at her life as Martine Langevin; her discovery; her sudden fame as the spokesmodel for the local cheese producers; her job as a weather girl; and the rocky relationships that ran through her past. Quinton really shines in these scenes, and it’s easy to believe her as a small-town girl who grows up to be a star — even a troubled one.

Rouve’s David is amiable enough, though far from the singular character of MacLachlan’s Agent Cooper. The townsfolk also don’t rise to the quirky level of Pete Martell or the Log Lady, but some of them — especially Betty (Clara Ponsot), the hotel’s receptionist — show signs that they might have more interesting characters if they had the breathing room of a television series to work in.

But really where Hustache-Mathieu draws the most inspiration from Twin Peaks is in his ability to set a certain not-quite-normal atmosphere. As David relishes the local cheese and wine, they serve the same purpose as a slice of pie and a cup of good, hot black coffee. And then there are the various cross-references and coincidences; some of which are explained later in case you didn’t put it together yourself, and some of which seem to be left ambiguous. The film rewards a close, watchful eye and an active mind the way all the best detective novels do, and I may have to go back to it again since I still can’t figure out what the deal is with the fives or the bulls that make enough passive appearances that I’m convinced they’re not mere coincidences.

On top of all that, it looks gorgeous in the snowy roads in and around Mouthe. There are a number of visually imaginative sequences, and the whole thing is infused with a style that is at once glamorous and engaging. It’s a pleasure to watch the stories, both of Candice’s past and of her death, take shape.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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