Every threat of sentimentality and melodrama is averted by a seriously strong cast working from a snappy script. It may be warm and gentle, but the honest humour and twisty plot make sure the audience is entertained rather than manipulated. And there are some startlingly edgy scenes along the way that allow the actors to create spiky, fully formed characters while clearly having a great time in each other's company.
Based on writer-director Israel Horovitz's stage play, most of the action takes place within a vast old flat in central Paris that has just been inherited by Jim (Kevin Kline), who flies in from New York so he can sell it. He's at the end of his rope and needs the cash, so is unnerved to discover that the apartment is a "viager", a quirk in French property law that allows the past owner to remain in the home for the rest of their life. So Jim can't sell the flat as long as 92-year-old Mathilde (Maggie Smith) is alive, and her daughter Chloe (Kristin Scott Thomas) immediately locks horns with Jim, who has already been in touch with a despised developer (Stephane Freiss). As the days pass, Jim is so determined to figure out how to make some money off of this property that he ignores the much bigger things going on around him.
Kline actually manages to make the deeply bullheaded Jim surprisingly likeable, adding a generous charm to the character's overpowering inner misery. So while he dismisses both women out of hand, the audience can see that there might be some substance there. Smith and Scott Thomas are of course terrific as the put-upon women trying to defend their lifelong home. And all three characters must face some unexpected truths about their own pasts in order to plot a course forward. This messy, revelatory plotting is so much fun that the hint of romance between Jim and Chloe feels almost irrelevant.
Continue reading: My Old Lady Review
An attempt to spice up a true story with fictional characters and events leaves this film feeling artificial. And it doesn't help that the two likeable lead actors never quite crack the surface. But this is still a fascinating moment in history, and the film captures a strong sense of the setting as well as the importance of this urgent meeting of two cultures.
It takes place in August 1945, just after Japan surrenders to the Americans. General MacArthur (Jones) is now charged with determining whether Emperor Hirohito (Kataoka) should be tried for war crimes. So he assigns General Fellers (Fox) to define Hirohito's role. Fellers has experience with Japanese culture: he lived there before the war and fell in love with university student Aya (Hatsune). But he never knew what happened to her, so in addition to working with his translator Takahashi (Haneda) to meet with various wartime officials, he also looks for news about Aya.
There's something fishy about this whole Aya business right from the start, as we doubt that such a high-ranking military officer, charged with such a vitally important task, would spend so much time on his own personal search. We also never really care about Fellers' feelings for Aya, so nothing about this plot-thread and its gauzy flashbacks feels realistic. And sure enough, a bit of research reveals that it's complete fiction. The far more interesting relationship here is between Fellers and Takahashi, which is played with intriguing texture by Fox and especially Haneda but is never properly explored on-screen.
Continue reading: Emperor Review