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Screens No good deed goes unpunished

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Après Vous' generous waiter finds a heart of gold may be worth its weight in uranium

No one feels as indebted to us as those who do us favors. Someone who lends you $50,000 takes a stake in your prosperity. So when Antoine (Auteuil) cuts Louis (Garcia) down from the rope on which he has hanged himself, the other man's happiness becomes Antoine's consuming concern. "Saving him doesn't make you responsible for him," observes Antoine's fiancée, Christine (Canto), but he ignores the advice.

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Antoine gets the suicidal Louis a job as a sommelier, but finds himself drawn into a love triangle with the source of Louis' desperation, Blanche (Sandrine Kimberlain).

The head waiter at an elegant Parisian restaurant, Antoine is rushing to a rendezvous with Christine when he notices a miserable stranger dangling from a tree in the park. He of course pauses to save a life, but that beneficence is only the beginning. Apprehensive that the sullen, taciturn man remains suicidal, Antoine insists on providing him shelter, food, and clothing. Though Louis knows nothing about vintages, he even gets him hired as sommelier in his own restaurant, assuring the anxious novice wine steward that diners share his ignorance and will obey his recommendations, whatever they are.

Après Vous is a thoughtful farce about the crazy consequences of altruism. Once he has convinced himself that he is essential to saving Louis' life, there are no limits to what Antoine will do to sustain his protégé, even at the expense of his own welfare. The price of being Louis' benefactor is not only thousands of euros but also the loss of Christine. Antoine's extravagant self-sacrifice results in an inversion of their relationship; Louis prospers while Antoine is reduced to a sleepless, sottish, wretched wreck.

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Daniel Auteuil plays Antoine, a kind-hearted waiter who adopts a troubled man's woes in the French comedy Après Vous.

Since a jilting generated Louis' depression, Antoine sets out to chercher la femme, Blanche (Kiberlain), and restore Louis to her affections. That erotic project accounts for most of the movie's comic energy, though fickle Blanche, who runs a flower shop, seems less important in herself than what she means to the two men. Après Vous is a kind of Gallic Sideways, a film about two desperate, mismatched buddies who eat and drink their way to epiphanies about self and love. Fellow employees of a pompous brasserie, Auteuil's Antoine and Garcia's Louis are perfect foils and fools for each other, and the snootiness of haute cuisine provides a delicious target for ridicule.

Après Vous

Dir. Pierre Salvadori; writ. Benoït Graffin, David Lèotard, Pierre Salvadori; feat. Daniel Auteuil, Josè Garcia, Sandrine Kiberlain, Marilyne Canto (R)
If this were the only French film released in the past 40 years, it might be tempting to interpret it as a critique of European colonialism, of how Paris' good intentions in Indochina and Algeria became indistinguishable from an impulse toward self-destruction. As it is, Après Vous is at least a blithe reminder to be wary of benevolence. The life the good Samaritan destroys may be his own. However, a romantic final twist saves director Pierre Salvadori's script from utter cynicism. The film concludes with a kiss during a tryst in a Thai restaurant. An honest bowl of postcolonial pad se ew triumphs over the gaudy intricacies of tempestuous tournedos.

After press time, the film's distributor announced that the local opening date for Après Vous has been moved to July 29.


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