Updated: Dec 4, 2021
Originally released in 2016, Justine Triet's In Bed With Victoria (or simply, Victoria, as it's known in France) debuted as part of International Critics' Week at Cannes Film Festival, and closes out this edition of French Film Festival UK's virtual fff@home screenings of festival favourites. Considered by many to be Virginie Efira's breakout role, In Bed With Victoria was certainly her big introduction to foreign audiences and garnered a number of Best Actress nominations (including a win at the 7th annual Magritte Awards), but it was probably 2013's It Boy that cemented her reputation as a leading lady in France.
Either way, it may seem like a rapid rise to becoming one of the queens of the French box office, but Efira had spent the previous fifteen years (since 1998) as a popular television anchor in her native Belgium before eventually making the move to France. Personally, my first experience of her was in the 2014 French/Belgian co-production, Une famille à louer (Family For Rent), which makes perfect sense given her roots there. Co-starring popular fellow Belgian actor, Benoît Poelvoorde, it was a charming romantic-comedy that was mostly held together by the strength of its two leads.
Virginie Efira was magnetic from the outset, and it was this compulsion to watch her which made the transition to film seem so effortless. It's also the thing that makes In Bed With Victoria work, as she's required to sell the audience on things very quickly, in order to get them on board. Unlike glossy Hollywood comedies about the single mother juggling work and home life with aplomb, our heroine Victoria Spick is hanging on by a slender thread. Somehow she is managing to balance two young daughters and a flaky ex-husband (Laurent Poitrenaux) - who is too busy writing a fictional blog based loosely on her life - with her day job as a successful criminal defence lawyer, but it's taking a toll. Something has to give, and it seems that will most likely be Victoria herself.
When an old friend (Melvil Poupaud) comes to her after being accused of stabbing his fiancée during a domestic dispute at a wedding, her worlds collide and things slowly start to unravel. Victoria had been at the same wedding, and it was there she reconnected with one of her former clients, the hapless drug dealer Sam (played by the outstanding Vincent Lacoste). Sam has finally started to turn his life around and wants to become a lawyer himself, but right now he just needs a place to stay while he gets back on his feet. The timing is perfect, as Victoria is in need of a new live-in nanny/babysitter, so an odd partnership forms as the two start living together to satisfy their complementary needs.
Meanwhile, things take a turn and Victoria's closeness to the case is exploited, resulting in her eventual suspension. She hits rock-bottom, and it's only then that the rebuilding can take place. It's funny to see this classified as a romantic-comedy when it comes across more like watching someone have a gradual breakdown. This is why casting Virginie Efira is so effective, as you want to follow her all the way down, while rooting for her to get back up. It's also why the casting of Sam is important, as you need Lacoste's ability to alternate between the hapless dealer and the slick student on the road to recovery, without losing the core of who he is. The film is so reliant on the strength of its cast, but I say that as a compliment to the director and their vision, rather than suggesting it as some kind of crutch.
Director Justine Triet's script has numerous layers, and revels in its ability to find humour in even the darkest situations. I guess that's where the comedy label comes from, but it's an oversimplification of something that is far more clever and subtle than that. Family For Rent was a rom-com, but In Bed With Victoria is a character study. There are a lot of laughs to be had though - especially the moments when both a dog and a chimp are brought into the courtroom as expert witnesses - and there are some delightful scenes with Laure Calamy, who was obviously a star long before people discovered her in Call My Agent!
As a closing film, and highlight, of the current festival, In Bed With Victoria makes perfect sense. Having seen one of her latest films (Night Shift) earlier in the run, you can appreciate the journey Efira's been on, as well as that of her fellow cast - all of whom are quite familiar to audiences today. The film also stands as a testament to Justine Triet's place as an auteur in modern French cinema, where she continues to develop. Her follow-up effort, Sibyl, could be viewed as a companion piece to this one - both in terms of its themes and casting choices - which reunited her with Virginie Efira and Laure Calamy. I can't wait to continue on these journeys with them, and to participate in the next instalment of French Film Festival UK later in the year.