Among the dozen films I’d watched at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, two are apt selections for the annual Paris In July blogging event hosted by Tamara in Thyme for Tea, now in its sixth year. Recently I have re-watched both, one at an indie theatre, the other on Blu-ray. Here’s my first entry to Paris In July 2015.
My Old Lady (2014)
Just when voices had been raised in recent months from female stars against the sexist domination in Hollywood, and lamenting the lack of significant female leading roles, another issue pops up. Well, the problem has been there all along, but who would speak for those who are…. getting old? The peril of Agism in the movie industry. And, if you’re female and aging, confronting Hollywood is a losing battle.
I’m glad there are filmmakers who consider film as an art form, and in its essence, conveys the meaningful and universal that make us human. Kudos to all who attempt to break the barrier. Here we have a directorial debut from 75 year-old Isaac Horowitz. As he had noted, which first-time film director would talk about his five grandchildren?
Horowitz is an author of more than 50 produced plays. Several of his works have been translated and performed in as many as 30 languages worldwide. This is his first time directing a film, adapting his own play onto the big screen. My Old Lady is a delightful debut. I’ve watched it three times, so far, and liked it more each time.
In an after screen talk, Horowitz shared that he had heeded one advice from the iconic director Sydney Lumet: “Cast the best actors in the world and then get out of their way.” In his debut movie, his cast is first-rate, and allow me to show their age when they made this movie, just to prove a point: Maggie Smith, 80, Kristin Scott Thomas, 54, and Kevin Kline, 67. How much the director had left them to their own I don’t know, but sure looks easy for these veteran actors to take on this one. Such natural ease comes from decades of experience, expertise honed as innate skills.
That’s the advantage of ageing. Let’s drink to that.
Kevin Kline plays Mathias Gold, a down-and-out, thrice divorced, alcohol dependent, penniless middle-aged American who is relieved to inherit from his late father an apartment in the Marais district of Paris. Going there to claim his rightful ownership and aiming at a quick sale, he learns a French lesson in property transfers instead: En Viager. When his father purchased the apartment 43 years ago – now worth over 10 million Euros – he was under the contracted stipulation of a Viager.
This is the issue Mathias faces: Instead of a lump sum payment made for a clear purchase, his father, the buyer, had contracted to put down a cheap amount and then pay the rest as viager, a monthly fee of 2,400 Euro to the vendor and occupant of the apartment, Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith), until she dies. Now at 90, Mathilde is in good health, thanks to her daily sustenance of red wine and precise meal times. Not only that, Mathilde has a daughter living with her, headstrong and vocal to defend their property against any potential profit-driven redevelopment plans.
That’s the story. It is not hard to predict the ending, with Kline and Scott Thomas together, albeit fiery and combative to start with. But what is harder to foresee is the story within the story at the outset. Everyone has a past. This is one of the best performance I’ve seen with Kline, for he carries the whole film and delivers with just the right touch of humour and pathos. The first time the two were co-stars was in Life As A House (2001), interestingly, another story based on a domicile. Life as a house indeed.
Scott Thomas as always is a pleasure to watch. No matter what role she takes up, her communication is crisp and clear even without having had to say a word. The last scene is a prime example. But of course, you don’t have to wait till the last. As for Maggie Smith, at 80, she is as strong as ever, even when she is playing one who is ten years older.
When it comes to plays turned into films, one should expect the prolific dialogues. Not a perfect fit all the time, there are moments where I as a movie viewer expect better lines, and more than stage-like scenes. But overall, the three characters are a delight to watch.
The few external Parisian street scenes with its fine matching music score instil longing. Yes, this is the kind of films that work best to lure you to Paris, not to the hot tourist sites, but to the streets where Parisians actually live. Subliminal seduction registering in my mind that next time I must go to those districts which are less trodden by tourists but equally representative of the historic city. Maybe a B&B right there in the Marais instead of a boutique hotel.
My Old Lady is a light comedy with a heart, bringing out an issue that, alas, could not be fully resolved, for what’s done cannot be undone. Offsprings inherit from their parents not only the physical properties but often the emotional baggages and their consequences. As a dramedy, Horowitz has brought us not only the drama but the happy ending, the best case scenario that can come out of human failings. That could well be a reason why we go see movies.
~ ~ ~ Ripples
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