Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Grocer’s Son: the way we were

The Grocer’s Son/Le Fils de l'épicier

Director Eric Guirado has given us a slow-paced film. Slow like life in rural France where it takes place. Slow like the developing romance at its centre. Slow like the rebuilding of the family's relationships. Slow like the emerging self-discovery of its main characters. Slow like the growing bonds between the stand-in mobile grocer and his customers.

Antoine Sforza (Nicolas Cazalé) has been sacked from his waiter’s job. When his father is hospitalised, he returns to help in his family grocery in a rural French hamlet. He brings his friend Claire (Clotilde Hesme) with him, hoping to establish a sexual relationship.

He's not a a prime catch. The men in Antoine’s family are all dysfunctional. His bitter, misanthropic father (Daniel Duval) wants nothing to do with him. His brother François (Stéphan Guérin-Tillié), who is a local hairdresser, blames Antoine for deserting the family. Antoine is disorganised, unmotivated and a poor communicator with atrocious inter-personal skills.

The village is a dying community in many ways. The grocery and a motor mechanic’s workshop are the only remaining businesses. Most of the customers of the mobile grocery service seem to be octogenarians. Yet it’s the elderly who breathe life into Antoine, with a lot of help from Claire. Clement (Paul Crauchet), an elderly farmer, and the highly eccentric Lucienne (Liliane Rovère) reawaken his humanity and his good humour. It was refreshing to see a movie that did not involve old people either in or on the way to a nursing home. The recent baby-boomers' flick, The Savages, came to mind immediately.

Before the inevitable crisis in their romance, Claire joins Antoine on his truck rounds and teaches him how to interact with people. She also helps to turn on his tap of self-reflection.

Unhappy marriages are the order of the day. Antoine’s mother (Jeanne Goupil) has been long-suffering support for her hostile, combative husband. Claire had four years of unhappy marriage before a new start as a student. François is in denial, hiding the fact that his wife has left him. He suffers severe depression, which seems to be both a cause and a result of his marriage breakdown.

The Grocer’s Son is very predictable in many ways. It moves inexorably towards a happy ending for most of its main characters. However, this didn’t seem to spoil the experience as the story is about personal discovery. It finishes on a strong note of hope. It is a pity that this happens in a part of society that is fast disappearing even in France. This is not the world of unbridled consumption or conspicuous wealth. It’s the world of 19th Century romanticism. If it still exists somewhere, then let’s hope they can keep it secret.

Another foreign language film that’s worth a visit to the cinema, if you can find it.

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