The Rose Maker. M, 95 minutes. Four stars
Another year, another rose show, and still no recognition for the quality of her blooms. Is it because the rose breeder is a bit of a stick in the mud, a traditionalist who keeps entering a similar type of flower in every show? Or is it that she needs to show a bit more marketing flair, and name her flowers after celebrities like Sophie Marceau or Beyoncé?
Eve Vernet (Catherine Frot) has been managing her late father's extensive nursery for 15 years but the business is losing its edge. What to do, she wonders, sitting up late puffing on her pipe. As a stubborn perfectionist who resists succumbing to new trends, Eve is steadily losing business and on the way to bankruptcy, and she cannot bear to sell.
It's a serious question for French farmers who still do things the traditional way. The director, Pierre Pinaud, and his four collaborating screenwriters on The Rose Maker have created a sharp, amusing comedy set in the country's vast agricultural sector that will resonate everywhere.
Eve's farm is in danger of being swallowed up by a giant corporate, a major industrial-scale rose breeding business in the nearby area. The owner, Lamarzelle (Vincent Dedienne), the suitably unctuous villain of the piece, is trying hard to buy Eve out. Every chance he gets, he tells her she should sell the family rose farm and work with him. She would definitely rather not sell her business and its valuable reputation to an opportunist only interested in making money.
One day, the local social worker deposits a trio of unlikely helpers at Eve's door. There's young Fred (Manel Foulgoc), with a lion and rose sleeve tattoo and a long criminal record that includes robbery with violence and unspecified other crimes that the authorities have yet to catch up with.
Amiable, 50-year-old Samir (Fatsah Bouyamed) looks like he's had a hard time of it, and Nadege (Marie Petiot) is a nervy girl who says little and whom no one wishes to upset. They are each in training for a return-to-work program, and their labour will be free.
With help from untrained helpers such as these and a well-meaning but inept office manager, Vera (Olivia Cote), you might think that the demise of Eve's business was sealed.
Yet Eve is in luck. Her new workforce has hidden talents. Samir remembers some of his high-school genetics, Fred has extensive experience picking locks plus other skills, and all three are willing.
Suddenly inspired, Eve has plans to hybridise a new creation, but she will need access to a rare plant. It's Lamarzelle, wouldn't you know it, who has one of this rare breed and keeps locked away, refusing to allow others in the business to take cuttings. Eve, in a surprising display, decides to rob fortress Lamarzelle of this prized plant. With Fred's remarkable know-how, a bit of sangfroid and a lot of luck, team Vernet manages to carry it off.
The ruthless side to Eve's sweet and eccentric exterior appears again when she threatens to report her trio of helpers if they dob her in, but they all move on from the stand-off. It's an interesting moment.
The Rose Maker begins as Eve's story but it segues into the rehabilitation of Fred, a troubled city boy. He is played by the charismatic Melan Omerta (screen name of Manel Foulgoc) who is a well-known rapper from Toulouse with a band.
This performance background may explain the confidence and charisma that Foulgoc shows on screen, in an engaging, understated and nuanced performance. The confidence sits well with his role and with his character's backstory as a street kid who was rejected by his parents and consequently turned to petty crime.
French cinema often seems to acknowledge the importance of the country's rural traditions and the pressures on traditional farming. In some respects, the film's themes are in similar territory to those covered by the recent, powerful Guillaume Canet film, In the Name of the Land.
At the start of The Rose Maker, we may feel a trifle underwhelmed by a certain twee familiarity. However, while Frot's character remains intriguing throughout, she steps back to allow Foulgoc his story, that of the angry, damaged city boy on a journey of self-discovery, to take over.