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Photograph by Guy Ferrands

Chef's Surprise: Sandrine Kiberlain pecks reluctant sommelier José Garcia on the cheek for 'Après Vous.'

Like Waiter For Chocolate

No good deed goes unpunished in 'Après Vous'

By Richard von Busack

FEED A DOG and make him prosperous, and he won't bite you, wrote Mark Twain: "That is the principal difference between a dog and a man." Pierre Salvadori's sec comedy Après Vous plays a variation on one of the key films in the French cinema, Jean Renoir's Boudu Saved From Drowning. In this deft farce, a sap/Samaritan who rescues a man from hanging himself in the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont gets everything coming to him, and more. Daniel Auteuil plays Antoine, the rescuer. That beady stare Auteuil uses in his hard-boiled movies is undercut by the most fatuous half-open mouth since Charles Grodin's. Louis, the rescuee, is played by José Garcia, who is damp and dark, like Robert Downey Jr. in one of his just-out-of-rehab performances. Antoine not only puts up Louis in his apartment (thus pissing off his girlfriend) but also gets him a job as a sommelier at his workplace (thus pissing off everyone else in his life). Being a wine steward is a strain for Louis, who is claustrophobia in the cellar and can't tell a merlot from a burgundy.

Having set Louis on the right path, Antoine now determines to reunite Louis with his long-lost girlfriend, Blanche. This idea also fails: the girl is more intrigued with the helpful waiter instead. Farces never work without a female comedian who has equal and opposite neuroses with the hero. Salvadori lucked out with his Blanche, played by the swan-necked strawberry blonde Sandrine Kiberlain, as panicky in the peepers as Antoine is. Blanche is unsteady in the morals department—"After three drinks, I'm anybody's." Moreover, she's unable to shake a tough, philandering fiance, who insists on presenting her with make-up flowers—apparently, the man doesn't realize she works as a florist. This vehicle chugs a little when taking the hills. When Louis becomes a real pain, I longed for a little more underpinning—Antoine's dramatic revelation that his own parents had been suicides, and that ever since he had dedicated himself to rehabilitating those who would tragically take their lives, and whatnot. But Après Vous is a well-appointed movie, sporting a lethal bit about the hoodwinking of a provincial old lady (Audrée Tansy) and including a reggae theme by Camille Bazbaz that never really gets irritating no matter how much it's repeated.

Much of Après Vous takes place in restaurants, which is more than a gimmick to speed characters in and out the door at precisely the wrong time. Implicit in Après Vous is the French faith that if you ate better food, you'd be a better person. In some senses, a waiter's job is to bring out that better person by coaxing customers into more sophisticated choices. Since so many of our comedies are made by people who have lost their faith in civilization, I was pleased to see one that endorses good manners, the noble gesture and the full wine glass. ("You'll be dancing back to work," says a waiter to a customer here, as he presses him to order a pricey bottle.) Ultimately, Antoine's generosity earns him a fine tip—and the viewer will feel well fed, too.

Après Vous (R; 110 min.), directed by Pierre Salvadori, written by Salvadori, Danièle Dubroux, Benoit Graffin and David Léotard, photographed by Gilles Henry and starring Daniel Auteuil, José Garcia and Sandrine Kiberlain, opens Friday.

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From the June 8-14, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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