Every musical is built around songs of aspiration, “dream songs” in which a character can’t express emotions and hopes in mere words. She or he just has to sing them, maybe do a little dance as she does.
Think of Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” longing for “more than this provincial life,” or everybody in that enchanted castle, in this song or that one, hoping at long last to break the curse.
“Footnotes” is a French musical with nothing but songs of aspiration. And what are the characters singing about? Hopes of finding a job, of keeping a job, of quitting a job and hitting the road.
Here’s a musical everybody can relate to. The dreams are down to Earth, not set in “La La Land.” There’s a chance at love, but it’s not important enough to warrant a song. No, the bigger hopes are of paying the bills, feeding oneself and keeping gas in the moped.
“I have no time to dream,” the struggling working-class 20something Julie may grouse, but we know better.
It’s just that there are limits to our heroine’s dreams. Played with disarming, French-girl-next-door charm by Pauline Etienne, Julie is the face and voice of a global generation, bounced from “McJob” to “McJob” in a cruel, bosses-have-all-the-power economy. Every “try-out” is a scam to get a free day or week’s labor out of the powerless.
We know where she’ll end up thanks to a documentary prologue. Romans, in the Rhone Valley south of Lyon, is the designer shoe capital of France, a working-class town that cranks out world class shoes for the rich.
And it is at the Jacques Couture factory that Julie finds work, in shipping, and sings of the “bright prospects for eternity,” because getting dumped by her beau and hounded by her bank, she’s at her wit’s end.
But our coquette is barely a day into her probation period hiring when the merde hits the ventilateur. The director of the company, which makes fine women’s footwear, by hand, offhandedly announces planned “upgrades” in a magazine profile.
The French have the best euphemisms. In America, we call it “right-sizing,” or “down-sizing,” all pointing to jobs being sent to China or wherever the labor is cheapest this year.
And the all-female factory workforce sing and dance themselves into a tizzy on the factory floor. “We could go on hunger strike,” they sing in French. “We could kidnap his brat!”
Julie, despite being told to keep her head down and do her job, is caught up in the with the older women, chanting “You will not stitch up the Couture Girls” as they charter a bus and drive to Paris to confront the self-absorbed big boss, Xavier Laurent (Francois Morel, in smarmy boulevardier mode) in the middle of a shoe fashion show.
Tugging Julie in another direction in the hunky-and-he-knows-it truck driver, Samy (Olivier Chantreau). He smolders when he smokes, and when he sings it’s about following his “Marlboro Man” dream West, to America, with cowboys and Geronimo invading his fantasy.
Julie fights the feeling, but she is smitten.
The co-writer/directors, Paul Calori and Kostia Testut, expand on a short film they made and give us a musical fantasy of accessible dimensions. The tunes are light bossa novas in the French fashion, saucy fight songs and ballads. The voices are pleasant, not ready for “The Voice” or Broadway. The choreography is amusing, relatively simple and to the point.
As is the movie itself. The delightful “Footnotes” is grounded in reality, light on its feet, with just enough intrigues, betrayals and twists to fill 80 brisk minutes with minor delights.
MPAA Rating:unrated, with adult situations, fisticuffs
Cast: Pauline Etienne, Loic Corbery, Clementine Yelnic, Francois Morel, Olivier Chantreau, Julie Victor,
Running time: 1:23