Production compaines: Bavaria Pictures, Senator Film Produktion
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Director: Sandra Nettelbeck
Producer: Astrid Kahmke, Frank Kaminski, Philipp Kreuzer, Ulrich Stiehm
Screenwriter: Sandra Nettelbeck
Starring: Michael Caine as Matthew Morgan, Clémence Poésy as Pauline Laubie, Gillian Anderson as Karen Morgan, Justin Kirk as Miles Morgan, Jane Alexander as Joan Morgan, Richard Hope as Stamp Collector, Anne Alvaro as Madame Léry, Yannick Choirat as Lucien, Michelle Goddet as Madme Dune
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.
That said, the sleepy pace and down-beat tone sometimes stretch the patience, especially as the central idea seems to be that the intensity of grief affects our own perception in ways we are incapable of seeing. But there is also plenty of humour and joy in the film, plus a lively running dialog about the meaning of life (Matthew is a retired philosophy professor). And sometimes we need to be reminded that self-discovery is a task that is never finished. And that the people around us can help us in ways we can't imagine, but only if we let them.