DRIVING MADELEINE Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Christian Clarion
Stars: Line Renaud, Dany Boon, Alice Isaaz, Jeremie Leheurte.
It would be easy to dismiss this charming crowd-pleasing little film as a Gallic variation of the Oscar winning Driving Miss Daisy, but this French drama, which screened during the recent Alliance Francaise French Film Festival, is so much more.
Madeleine Keller (played by veteran singer and actress Line Renaud, recently seen in Call My Agent, etc) is a feisty 92-year-old woman, but due to a recent fall her doctor has recommended that she no longer live alone in her home. Instead she is forced to enter a nursing home. She hires a taxi to drive her across Paris. Her driver is taciturn and cranky and down on his luck Charlie (Dany Boon) who is struggling to hold his family together amidst a mountain of bills. He is also in danger of losing his license which could further impact on his ability to make a living. At first he is reluctant to accept the job of driving Madeleine across town. During the trip she has Charlie make a small detour through the neighbourhood of Vincennes so she can visit places from her past, but because of the high rise buildings and modern constructions she can hardly recognise the place. The journey prompts Madeleine to reminisce about her past and the memories, both good and bad, and the experiences that have shaped her.
But through a series of flashback sequences we learn more about the younger Madeleine (played by Alice Isaaz) and her struggles and her turbulent relationship with her abusive husband Ray (Jeremie Laheurte). This was an era in which a woman could not get a job or open a bank account without her husband’s permission, let alone get a divorce even if he was abusive. How Madeleine gains her revenge on Ray may prove uncomfortable for some audiences.
This is largely a two hander and there is a strong chemistry between Renaud and Boon, and the pair have worked together previously which also helps in establishing a credible rapport. Their odd couple dynamic shapes the film. Renaud is a veteran singer whose career has spanned some eight decades, and her own wealth of experience shapes her performance as Madeleine. Boon is better known for his crowd-pleasing comedies (Welcome To The Sticks, etc), but here he turns in a more subtly nuanced and restrained performance.
Director Christian Carion (Joyeux Noel, etc) and cinematographer Pierre Cattereau (Café de Flore, etc) show us sights and sounds of Paris far removed from the usual placed visited by tourists, giving us a strong sense of place. The film is tinged with a sense of nostalgia for a past that has been lost. But the darker moments are tempered with plenty of humour and warmth.
During the journey Madeleine passes on to Charlie some of the hard-earned wisdom she has gained throughout her life, and a strong connection develops between the pair. Like the best road movies, Driving Madeleine is also a journey of transformation and change. By the time they reach their destination Madeleine has had a profound impact on Charlie and changed his life and cynical outlook. The film packs an emotional wallop, and by the time the final credits roll there is barely a dry eye in the house.