Monday, October 15, 2012

All Together: A Houseful of Old French People

It hard to imagine a demographic group more set in their ways than French senior citizens.  There will be no gallivanting off to Mumbai for them.  However, reality is beginning to set in for five old friends.  Deciding there are strengths and economies in numbers, they decide to share digs in Stéphane Robelin’s All Together (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Jean Colin is an aging lefty who can no longer get arrested.  C’est tragic.  Neither the characters nor the filmmakers apparently recognize the contradiction between the rich lifestyle his well heeled wife Annie makes possible and his lifetime of class warfare.  Naturally, it will be Annie’s house that the other three move into. 

Albert and Jeanne are married.  Claude is notoriously single, but distressingly, his mojo is failing him.  More ominously, Albert’s faculties are iffy at best.  Fortunately, Dirk, a Spanish geriatric ethnology grad student agrees to serve as their live-in caregiver as part of his thesis.  Not surprisingly, there was not a lot of competition for that gig, but the interview process is still rather awkward.

In a sense, All Together is a bridge film between the crowd pleasing Marigold Hotel and Michael Haneke’s uncompromisingly grim Amour due in theaters this December.  While there will be both humor and sorrow, Robelin never lets either overwhelm the picture.  Instead, he allows his characters to breeze along in a spirit of bittersweet sophistication, largely self-aware of their foibles and mortality.  That distinctive tone helps the film sidestep the numerous melodramatic pitfalls thematically related films often wallow in.

Robelin’s narrative is all very nice and heartfelt, but for just about every viewer the important story of All Together is Jane Fonda’s return to French filmmaking forty years after she appeared in Godard’s Tout va Bien.  Still fluent in French, her time with Roger Vadim was not completely misspent.  In fact, she anchors the film dramatically, turning some particularly touching scenes with Daniel Brühl’s Dirk.  Likewise, Pierre Richard’s understated performance as Albert is quite real and honest. 

Despite a relatively thinly developed character, Geraldine Chaplin is still quite engaging as Annie.  However, Guy Bedos and Claude Rich get a bit shticky, overdoing the senior scampishness as Jean and Claude, respectively.  Ultimately though, Brühl’s everyman decency and Fonda’s portrayal of the mentally sound but terminally ill Jeanne keep the film on-track (with a brief but memorable late appearance by Shemss Audat as Dirk’s potential love interest adding some spice).

All Together would look absolutely painful on the printed page, but Robelin’s execution is surprisingly surefooted.  Avoiding cheap sentiment and lazy laughs, it is rather grounded, in an elitist, Dolce Vita kind of way.  Recommended for Francophiles and fans of the famous cast, All Together opens this Friday (10/19) in New York at the Quad Cinema.