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‘My Piece Of The Pie,’ Served With A Bit Of Sauce

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
December 8, 2011

Money talks, and a chatty displaced worker talks back, in My Piece of the Pie, a stirring if occasionally over-obvious clash of capital and labor. This sweet-natured French movie is also something of a romantic comedy, although not so utopian as to imagine lasting love across the class-war frontier.

Writer-director Cedric Klapisch has long been an exponent of the ensemble comedy, and with 2002′s L’Auberge Espagnole he also began making movies that featured an array of countries. In its frenetic opening sequence, My Piece of the Pie seems to be following the same model: Klapisch cuts between a birthday party in Dunkirk and an investment firm in London, with an electro-soul score propelling the speedy edits. But the movie eventually calms down, settling on just two main characters and (mostly) a single city.

The emblematically named France (Karin Viard) is a single mother of three who’s just lost her job at a local factory, taken down by aggressive stock traders. One of those white-collar pirates is Stephane (Gilles Lellouche), a Frenchman who’s toiled in London for the past decade. (His current employer is unidentified, but the name Goldman Sachs is apparently a little further down his CV.)

When his cold-hearted British boss sends “Steve” back to France to start a hedge fund, the trader lands in a large and austere apartment in La Defense, the modernist Paris suburb. His new cleaning lady is none other than France, whose daughter’s boyfriend’s father runs a domestic-help agency. He’s happy to help France get a job, so long as she pretends to be an immigrant. Native-born maids, it seems, are regarded with suspicion in Paris.

Stephane, who pursues attractive young women as coldly as he pursues profit, initially pays little attention to the middle-aged France. But the trader’s womanizing has left him with one weakness: a kindergarten-age son. When the boy’s mother heads to Thailand for a month and dumps the kid on Stephane, he turns to France. Her knowledge of children gives her a new, if still limited, authority in the financier’s household.

France and Stephane become cozier, as she advises him not only on fatherhood but also on women. On a trip to London, however, their rapport collapses. Stephane and France’s final meeting is a symbolic showdown, with cops on one side and workers on the other. It’s enough to make sympathetic audiences burst into “The Internationale.”

Klapisch, who’s generally fonder of his female characters, makes Stephane too simplistic a portrait of empty-souled acquisitiveness, even if he is allowed the occasional glimmer of humanity. France, as intended, is more likable, although the two scenes where she’s playing at being a garrulous foreigner are less than subtle.

Such awkward moments pass quickly, though, in what’s ultimately a carefully plotted and fluidly structured movie. Klapisch is a master of the half-biting, half-soothing farce, and he usually keeps the divergent tones in harmony. He’s assisted capably by Viard, a longtime collaborator — she appeared in his directorial debut two decades ago — who was most recently seen in Potiche.

As an analysis of economic globalization, this is far from the most incisive of recent French films. But it compensates with dozens of charming touches, including an impromptu lunch for a dozen kids in Dunkirk and several scenes in which France shows her own enthusiasm for money. These moments alone are enough to make My Piece of the Pie a solid investment. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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