Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Stephane Robelin
Stars: Jane Fonda, Daniel Bruhl, Geraldine Chaplin, Pierre Richard, Claude Rich, Guy Bedos.
This French comedy-drama looks at the shared house experience for a group of septuagenarians, Annie, Jean, Claude, Albert and Jeanne, who have been friends for over forty years. They decide to live together rather than waste away in a retirement home. The film looks at a group of elderly people, and explores their fears, hopes and their zest for life as they approach their twilight years, despite their deteriorating bodies.
Jeanne (Jane Fonda) is a retired philosophy professor who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, which she is keeping from her husband Albert (Pierre Richard). She has also refused any further treatment. Albert is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and Jeanne worries about how he will cope without her around. Their recently widowed but still sexually active friend Claude (Claude Rich), a photographer who still regularly visits prostitutes, suffers a heart attack and his son puts him in a nursing home.
Annie (Geraldine Chaplin) and Jean (Guy Bedos), are a pair of former left wing activists and student radicals who enjoy the bourgeois lifestyle. They are appalled at the conditions of the nursing home, which is “full of fossils”, and they promptly move Claude into their spacious house. Jeanne and Albert also move into the house, and the five friends decide to live together and support each other as they move into their twilight years. But old secrets and desires slowly emerge that may upset the close relationship between these old friends.
The performances of the ensemble cast are uniformly solid, and there are no scene stealing turns amongst these veterans. The audience feels for these characters, and the witty well-written script turns our normal perceptions about the aged on their ear.
Fonda, who doesn’t look 74, has always had a steely discipline and fiercely intelligent presence, which she brings to her performance here. Her solid turn reminds us why she won two Oscars in her career. It is also interesting to see her speaking perfect French. It is easy to forget that she made a few films in France in the 60s when she lived there with her husband, Barbarella director Roger Vadim. This is her first film in France since Jean-Luc Godards’s Tout Va Bien in 1972.
Richard is touching as Albert, while Rich has a robust presence as Claude. German actor Daniel Bruhl (Goodbye Lenin, etc) lowers the average age of the cast considerably with his role as Dirk, an ethnology student writing a thesis on France’s ageing population, whom Jeanne hires to walk their dog. He eventually becomes a part of household. Not only does he learn from their experiences and accumulated wisdom, but he also has a few things to teach them.
This is the second feature for writer/director Stephane Robelin (Real Movie, etc), who directs with great compassion and sensitivity. He maintains a relatively light and upbeat mood throughout, even though the film deals with themes of mortality and death. He also suffuses the material with generous dollops of humour. Cinematographer Dominique Colin bathes the film in warmth and light tones that also enhances the tone.
This charming film will appeal to the same demographic that made the recent The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel such a massive hit at the box office.