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Jean-Luc is an established gerontologist who can do no wrong; he runs a private clinic specialising in anti-ageing treatments. Honoured for his work in this field, he throws a garden party at his home. It is during this social event that his father suddenly reappears, back after a long exile. A physician, he had left decades earlier without any apparent reason to practice in Africa. He moves into his son's home for several days, phlegmatically observing everything with an enigmatic smile. He peruses Jean-Luc's life and environment with cruel objectivity. The arrival of this interloper father, who everyone thought had disappeared for good, shatters the family microcosm: Jean-Luc doesn't know how to take him, as if the memory - or the resentment - was nothing but lost time; his wife becomes fond of this highly unconventional man; after first refusing to deal with him, Jean-Luc's younger brother strikes up a modest bond with him.Written by
Sujit R. Varma
In 1997, Anne Fontaine made an idiosyncratic film named "Nettoyage à Sec" in which a mysterious young man, Loïc shattered the upstart world of a couple of dry cleaners. Miou-Miou acted the woman while Charles Berling was her husband. Four years later, the female filmmaker finds again her main actor for a very similar role and a film which resembles its 1997 companion.
Here, the disruptive element isn't a young man but an elderly one acted by Michel Bouquet in a mind-boggling performance. After many years spent in research in Africa, he unexpectedly resurfaces in France to pay a visit to his sons. Berling is a doctor who has everything to be happy: a private hospital that works well, a lascivious mansion and a lovely spouse (Natacha Régnier) and he even saved from distress his brother whom he hired as his chauffeur. Is this posh universe serendipitous? Bouquet's presence will reveal the other side of this lush scenery as well as many things about his past, Berling's and his brother's. A good proportion of these secrets have something eerie and are likely to explain the current situation.
As soon as Bouquet arrives, Anne Fontaine exudes an unnerving climate and keeps a low-key tonality to better capture a high disquiet. Rather than to deliver banal explanations that would have rushed the film towards miscarriage, she prefers to call upon the viewer's imagination and to let the unsaid prevail to interpret the numerous zones of shadow and ambiguity the characters have deep down inside them. What also cements her talent is that she eschews a good number of easy moments in which the characters' reactions would have been so predictable. Distance is her key word to shoot her characters and she sends away the father and his son without pronouncing in favor of either even if she has an ounce of sympathy at the tail end when they feel lost.
Once again, Michel Bouquet's acute look and ubiquity are to be praised. He just has to pronounce a cue with his hoarse voice to fill one sequence with intensity. Berling and Régnier are up to scratch him. With Marion Vernoux and a few other ones, Anne Fontaine may be the finest French female filmmaker of these last years. Perhaps one will just regret this detail: Bouquet sees his son again when the latter is at the peak of his success and invites the whole community at his home. This trick has been used many times before.
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