Film & TV

French Film Festival Review: Saint Amour

A farmer and his middle-aged son embark on a wine tour across France, growing closer as a family and developing a connection with their young, hired driver.

A farmer and his son embark on a wine tour across France, having many stranger encounters, growing closer as a family, and developing a connection with their young, hired driver.

I’ve never developed a taste for French comedy. Language barriers aside, there’s something about it that simply does not click with me, whether because of cultural differences, or some other abstract reason. Saint Amour isn’t a film that’s going to change my opinion on this, but at least it was relaxing (when it wasn’t being embarrassing).

The heart of the film is a tale of inter-generational conflict and rural identity, but it doesn’t engage with these topics in any real depth, they’re just set ups to get the characters moving in the directions the story needs (in this case, eastwards across France). While the elderly father and middle-aged son are the central axis of the film, their young, totally-not-Uber driver ends up developing into a tritagonist not long into the film, eventually contributing to one of the more bizarre endings I’ve seen for what is essentially a road movie comedy with mild sex-romp aspects. The last act, in general, feels disconnected from the rest of the story, but the final denouement in particular sat very strangely with me.

The performances are subdued, but natural with Gerard Depardieu’s perpetually wide-eyed, stoic elderly farmer Jean as the only actor I recognise. The biggest exception to the subdued acting is the son, Bruno, played by Benoit Poelvoorde, whose insecurities and constant sense of frustration and confusion drives most of the conflict in the story. Vincente Lacoste as Mike the driver is suitably young and touchy, providing a modern, urban counterpoint to the two bumbling hicks. The rest of the cast is largely filled out with actors appearing for various vignettes, before being quietly abandoned as the film leisurely drives towards its next strange encounter.

The film doesn’t present much in the way of sweeping vistas – this is rural France from the road’s eye-view, with plenty of grimy, earthy elements that give the film an almost home-movie quality. But despite this, it remains bright and cheerful, making good use of natural light and warm tones. It’s not a visual feast, (unless you have a particular interest in agricultural fairs), but it helps set a dirty, light-hearted feel that suits the film well.

I can’t say I never laughed at this film, but overall it didn’t really hit the mark for me in that area. Despite this, I found it hard to dislike Saint Amour – there was something innocent about this story, where every remotely cynical aspect is inevitably demonstrated as a defence for a tender soul. If you’d like something light and not terribly challenging, Saint Amour presents a breezy, summery film that will seem warm and pleasant whilst it’s there, and will be barely thought about once it’s over.

Reviewed by Brendan Whittaker
Twitter: @BrendanW2

Rating out of 10: 6

Saint Amour will screen on 4, 10, 12, 14 & 17 April for the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival, which runs 30 March – 23 April 2017 exclusively at the Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas.

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