Footnotes makes its locations feel as grand as the Alps, which was kind of the point.
Usually thereâ€™s some kind of artifice in the movie musical. Yes, people spontaneously singing and dancing should be artifice enough, but thatâ€™s usually accompanied by bright lights, primary colors or astounding locales. On occasion, such as with Chicago, the filmmakers go out of their way to create a device to make the singing and dancing make sense; weâ€™re seeing things through Roxyâ€™s perspective (even when we arenâ€™t). Even almost-best picture winner La La Land starts immediately with some singing and hoofing on the 110/105 interchange.
One of the delights of Footnotes, written and directed by Paul Calori and Kostia Testut, is that you forget youâ€™re watching a musical for the first five minutes or so. In that time, we meet Julie (Pauline Etienne) as sheâ€™s about to learn from her boss that she didnâ€™t pass her trial period at the French equivalent of a Payless shoe store. As a consolation prize, the manager hands her a pair of red tennis shoes for her service. The store, the firing and the shoes are all foreshadowing for the rest of Julieâ€™s story.
Not one to be held down by the misfortune that plagues her, a montage of shitty jobs and classified ads follow her firing. She is successively let go of each. As sheâ€™s pushing her motorbike out of a parking lot, Julie starts to sing. Câ€™est magnifique. From the low-budget dramedy aesthetic, a low-budget musical is born.
Julie then finds herself face-to-face with FranĂ§oise (ClĂ©mentine Yelnik), the force of nature who runs the shipping and receiving department for the Jacques Couture shoe factory. The factory keeps the town of Romans afloat. In aged â€śhistoricalâ€ť footage, the devotion to craft shown by the workers in this factory is displayed. They are more artists than engineers in creating womenâ€™s footwear. Initially 15 men, they are credited with the creation of the stiletto heel (feel free to use this plot point for any upcoming papers pertaining to patriarchy or the male gaze in international cinema for film class this semester). Decades have passed. The â€śgeniusesâ€ť are dead and women run the factory, constructing the elegant Couture brand. FranĂ§oise is old and needs a replacement. And the thing she has that Julie wants more than anything is a permanent contract. All Julie has to do is pass her trial period (and we know how that has gone so far).
Now for a quick paraphrase of Pulp Fiction:
â€śYou know what they call downsizing in France?â€ť
â€śNo. What do they call downsizing in France?â€ť
Julie barely has her coveralls buttoned when word reaches the ladies on the factory floor that an upgrade is coming. This being France â€“ a country where laborers are accustomed to fighting for their rights â€“ the women organize a protest. A strike follows. Julie is just trying to keep her head down, but her manager has his eye on her and wants her gone. Love complicates matters further (as it always does) when Julie cautiously swoons for a devilishly handsome, lonesome trucker named Samy (Olivier Chantreau).
It is not for us to spoil the outcome here other than to say that, while Footnotes is a small movie, it is also a sweet movie with quite a bit to say about the quality of craft, corporate loyalty, workerâ€™s rights, gender politics and womenâ€™s bodiesâ€¦but in a fun way. The musical numbers never reach the heights of singing in a downpour or in a traffic jam, but the songs are charming as are the performers. There are no sweeping crane shots or aerial views of Julie pirouetting on the plains, just bowling alleys, factories and offices with stucco covered walls. Somehow, Footnotes makes these locations feel as grand as the Alps, which was kind of the point.