Looking a bit like a cross between Fellini favorite Giulietta Masina and Roseanne Barr, Yolande Moreau (Amélie) is a plump, effervescent screen presence whose face is incapable of obscuring her emotions. She could never play a femme fatale or any other diabolical creature, because she'd instantly give herself away, as if there blueprints clearly visible behind her eyes. Yet Moreau is charmingly direct as a romantic heroine, uncannily reminiscent of Masina in her combination of childlike innocence and poignant despair when that the cruelties of the world intrude on that innocence. Moreau has written (and co-directed) the ideal role for herself in When The Sea Rises, which recently won her the César award for Best Actress, but she supports it with such a slight scenario that the film could be blown away by a stiff breeze. Her full range of expressions gets reduced to two: Blissed-out or melancholy.
Blessed with a certain earned wisdom about show business and life on the road, When The Sea Rises opens with Moreau performing a one-woman show called "Dirty Business" to a warm audience in northern France. During her tour across the region, Moreau receives plenty of affection everywhere she goes, but it's a lonely and routine life, too, barely leavened by dutiful calls to her husband and children back home. When her car stalls on a country road, she gets some help from Wim Willeart, a quirky younger man who accepts tickets to her show in exchange for his generosity. So begins a friendship that starts with Willeart appearing onstage every night as her "randomly selected" audience member and drifts into a full-blown affair before they even recognize the ramifications of it.
Not to worry, though, because the film elides any meaningful confrontation, choosing instead to keep the affair light and the consequences bittersweet at worst. There are a couple of moments in the late-going when Moreau's face sinks into an "oops, what have I doing?" wistfulness and Willeart grapples with the sad reality that the tour will have to end, but When The Sea Rises doesn't grapple with the passion that exists between them. Instead, it's content enough just to drink in the regional flavor, appreciate the carefree heartiness of the locals, and allows these two eccentrics to have some good times before the carriage turns into a pumpkin. The film treads lightly, but leaves little impression.