Complex emotions and a gentle exploration of interpersonal connections make this Paris-set drama worth a look, especially since it's so nicely played by the eclectic cast. German filmmaker Sandra Nettlelbeck (Mostly Martha) lets the story unfold slowly and steadily, getting deep under the skin of the characters in the process. The draggy pace sometimes makes the two-hour running time feel very long indeed, but it lets the cast to take the time to create rich, detailed connections that are easy to identify with.
It's been three years since Matthew Morgan (Michael Caine) buried his wife Joan (Jane Alexander) in a cemetery in Paris, their chosen home. Now he imagines her everywhere he goes, feeling her absence all the time until he runs into the young dance instructor Pauline (Clemence Poesy). Not only does she remind him of Joan, but he fills a gap left in her life after her father died. So the two begin an offbeat friendship that feels more like family than anything else. Even so, Matthew's loneliness sparks a visit from his son Miles (Justin Kirk) and daughter Karen (Gillian Anderson), who's too busy to stay for very long. They of course don't trust Pauline. And as she witnesses Matthew's interaction with them, she begins to understand that he has never related to them as a father.
While the premise sets things up for a whole lot of healing and sentimentality, the script avoids this by remaining earthy and raw, digging deep into the characters without trying to explain everything they are doing or thinking. There certainly isn't a right way to mend the problems between Matthew and his children, although it's clear that a bit of openness and respect will go a long way. Caine plays this beautifully, with a spark of wry humour alongside Matthew's relentless pain. His scenes with Poesy have a delicate chemistry that is refreshingly difficult to fully understand, and yet it feels authentic. And when Miles enters their world, things shift in even more interesting directions.
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Castella (Jean-Pierre Bacri) and his wife have to attend a local stage production of Bérénice, in which their daughter plays a small part. They don't care for the theatre and can't understand the verse, but, to Castella's own surprise, he finds himself unusually moved by a leading actress Clara. The charming point here is that Clara isn't a young aspiring theatrical diva but an aging, harried, and often unemployed actress from a small provincial theatre. Castella, however, doesn't see her that way: For him, she brings into his dispassionate routine the whiff of a free-spirited life including cozy, drunken late-night talks and vibrant gallery gatherings. Through happenstance, Castella's new business arrangement requires him to learn English, and Clara (Anne Alvaro) becomes his teacher.
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