The Mystery of Henri Pick just manages to get out of the 20th Century

Fabrice Luchini and Camille Cottin in The Mystery of Henri Pick
Fabrice Luchini and Camille Cottin in The Mystery of Henri Pick

The Mystery of Henri Pick
Directed by Rémi Bezançon
Starring Alice Isaaz, Camille Cottin, Fabrice Luchini and Bastien Bouillon
In French with English subtitles, showing nationally as part of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival

There's a moment in The Mystery of Henri Pick where a charmingly grizzled literary critic, recently made unemployed and dumped by his wife, catches a show on his hotel room television.

It's a young woman of colour cheerfully spruiking Audible. It's a second where something of the new world penetrates the protective membrane surrounding the 20th century sensibility of this film.

The film’s world is of impossibly cultured and good-looking white people who read a lot but write even more as they quaff wine, ride bicycles and flirt. It's a world still in love with books, as printed objects, not stories whispered in your ears through the headphones on your phone.

The mystery referred to in the title revolves around what must be an impossibility: a simple Breton pizza cook, not known to have written anything more than a single awkward letter to his teenage daughter, has written a masterpiece of a novel.

The novel is unearthed after his death in a mausoleum to rejected manuscripts at the back of the local library and published to critical acclaim. But did he really write it? Can we really believe in this masterful stroke against intellectual elitism? The dispirited but still charmingly grizzled literary critic gets a new lease on life as he turns amateur sleuth.

And it's an excellent puzzle, coming as it does from expert storytellers nurtured through the decades by the delightful French penchant for subsidising their film industry. There are red herrings galore, and it playfully stays one step ahead of you all the way. It's like eating your favourite ice cream: not for nutrition, strictly for pleasure.

One quibble: true to that 20th century sensibility, we have a romantic subplot involving an older man and a much younger woman. Please no, not this, not any more. Fortunately, it's kept very light.

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