When Mystery Writer Meets Pinup Girl (Who's Dead)

May 10, 2012
Originally published on May 10, 2012 3:47 pm

Playing a Marilyn Monroe avatar in Nobody Else But You, Sophie Quinton endows her impersonation with less vitality than Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn. But that's appropriate: Quinton's character is already dead when this smart if outlandish movie opens.

The story begins with the disembodied voice of Candice Lecoeur (Quinton), a bottle-blonde, Marilyn-obsessed bombshell. She was the reigning sex goddess of Jura, a remote area of France that's almost Switzerland. Then Lecoeur's body is found in the snow, clutching a bottle of pills. Her death might have been suicide; there won't be an investigation because the remains were found in a border area with no legal jurisdiction. And wouldn't that be the perfect place for a savvy murderer to dump a victim?

The fate of Candice Lecoeur ("Candy Heart," roughly, and not the young woman's real name) is unfortunate for her. But it's a boon for David Rousseau (Jean-Paul Rouve), a Paris-based mystery writer who's come to the area for one kind of treasure and found another. Disappointed to learn that he inherited nothing of value from his late aunt, the blocked writer is happy to get something he really needs: the plot for his next book.

David begins investigating Candice's death and soon wins the assistance of a local cop (Guillaume Gouix) who aspires to join the Canadian police. No one else seems very inclined to help, however. Not the police chief (Olivier Rabourdin) and not Candice's psychiatrist (Arsinee Khanjian, who actually is Canadian). And there are several more potential suspects in David's temporary base, Mouthe, a snowy backwater known as "the coldest town in France."

The writer, who breaks into Candice's home in search of clues, finds her diaries. He's guided by these writings, an intriguing mix of tawdry revelation and romantic fantasy. Revealing passages are read in voice-over by Quinton, who also appears in multiple flashbacks.

Candice was not as famous as Marilyn Monroe, of course. She was known only in the region, both as a coquettish television weather girl and as the nearly naked spokesbabe for a local cheese, Belle de Jura. (The echo of Bunuel's Belle de Jour — starring another iconic blonde, Catherine Deneuve — is no coincidence.) The milky-fleshed beauty was the object of many intrigues, including some that closely parallel her idol's life. (Both the film's French title, Poupoupidou, and its U.S. one are derived from a tune Marilyn famously warbled.)

The kinship between the two blondes is the plotline that will polarize Nobody Else But You's viewers. Some will be amused by writer-director Gerald Hustache-Mathieu's elaborate links between Candice and Marilyn. But others will find them too goofy, especially in a film that presents a fairly grim view of how female stars are constructed and then demolished.

Although this film blanc features one corpse and several murder attempts, it's not exactly a thriller. Hustache-Mathieu keeps the viewer off balance not with dramatic shocks but with unexpected and often incongruous flourishes. These include a numerical motif, songs by such largely forgotten American performers as the Sonics and Jose Feliciano, and two instances of gratuitous full-frontal male nudity. There are also some mystery-biz inside jokes, including David's plan to boost his sales by assuming a Scandinavian pen name.

But not even the presence of a goth-chick hotel clerk could turn Nobody Else But You into The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The movie may teeter on the edge of Switzerland, but its playful sensibility is entirely French.

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