Just when we’d almost given up – and so, seemingly, had he – on Gérard Depardieu turning in a performance as great as those he used to produce with extraordinary regularity, along comes Xavier Giannoli’s immensely assured first feature, in which the star, presumably prompted by the partly self-reflexive nature of the material, shines with real brilliance.
A beautifully judged drama, it chronicles the faltering encounter of Alain (Depardieu), a middle-aged crooner working the discos, casinos and rest-homes of Clermont-Ferrand, and Marion (Cécile de France), an attractive but wary divorcée employed in the offices of Alain’s estate-agent friend Bruno (Mathieu Amalric). Alain – himself divorced from a protective ex who’s now hitched but works as his manager – is not averse to seducing female fans, but in Marion’s case he appears seriously smitten. She, however, is impressed neither by his songs nor by a self-deprecating charm she regards as just another part of his act. With Depardieu’s meticulously nuanced characterisation lent excellent support from all concerned, this insightful, witty, poignant account of a tentative relationship circumscribed by all manner of memories, anxieties and prejudices benefits from Giannoli’s utterly plausible script, which subtly conveys what people are thinking even as they’re saying something else entirely. While quietly very affecting – not least because the movie, written specifically for its lead, is clearly partly inspired by and reflects on his own career, charisma and motivations as a performing artist – it’s never once as corny as the crowd-pleasers Alain sings. Rather, it’s an admirably tough, ambivalent and honest look at the fraught relationship between real feelings and the culturally acceptable (or otherwise) public expression of similar emotions as manipulative entertainment. Excellent.