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Romuald and Juliette will make you believe in fairy tales. It's a sweet, sophisticated comedy concerned with class and racial distinctions as a white CEO moves in with a black cleaning lady to avoid the press during a corporate scandal.

Written and directed by Coline Serreau, the author of the original Three Men and a Baby, Romuald and Juliette is warm, witty and wonderfully illogical.

It casts Daniel Auteuil as a dairy company president, booted when consumers are sickened by a tainted batch of yogurt and when the Securities and Exchange Commission accuses him of trading company stock while orchestrating a takeover bid.

Auteuil's Romuald is an innocent victim. A pair of high-ranking executives, angry they were overlooked for a key post, have contaminated the yogurt and induced Romuald's secretary to buy the stock to implicate him in illegal transactions.

Their plot is uncovered by Juliette (Firmine Richard), a heavy-set domestic who has toiled 10 years at the firm. She overhears them late one night and notes how furtive they act in her presence. By accident, she slips a crumpled piece of paper from one man's desk into her pocket. Written on it is the name of the bacteria used to contaminate the yogurt.

Romuald and Juliette revolves around the humanizing of possession- and power-oriented Romuald as he lives with Juliette and her five children in their squalid apartment.

Auteuil, as talented an actor as Gerard Depardieu, creates a cool-hearted, fair-minded Romuald with a minimum of flourish. Auteuil's strength lies in his subtlety, the squint of an eye, the quiver of a lip.

It's a study of economy, one which could intimidate seasoned actors, let alone first-timer Richard. Yet, Richard has a natural ease and a robust presence. Her character's beauty is her tenacity and her fortitude, traits she shares with Romuald.

No one in Romuald and Juliette is overtly racially prejudiced, except Romuald's secretary after his return to power. Even her confrontation with Juliette is written to emphasize class distinctions rather than skin color.

It's as if Serreau were telling her audiences: You may note racial differences, but you needn't react to them.

It should be interesting to see how Walt Disney Productions deals with the racial issue in its upcoming American remake of Romuald and Juliette. Moreover, it will be a challenge to find a pair of actors who can project Auteuil's and Richard's understated dignity.

Whoopi Goldberg and Dudley Moore were not what Serreau had in mind. But in the fomulaic, money-grubbing land known as Hollywood, they'd be the perfect pair to poison this amiable fable.


Romuald and Juliette

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Director: Coline Serreau

Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Firmine Richard, Pierre Vernier, Maxime Leroux, Gilles Privat

Screenplay: Coline Serreau

Rating: Not rated; profanity, nudity, sexual situations

Running time: 107 minutes

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