Veteran actress, writer and director Nicole Garcia goes down a well-trodden path with this low-key character drama focusing on the relationship between two solitary individuals who have given up trying to make sense of life. But her sensitive dissection of the complexity of family ties and the chemistry of attraction produces an engaging, emotional film.
Baptiste (Pierre Rochefort, the son of veteran French actor Jean Rochefort) is a supply teacher at a primary school in the south of France who finds himself looking after one of his young pupils Mathias (Mathias Brezot) for a long-weekend after his divorced father forgets to pick him up from school. Baptiste is good at his job, but never stays in one place for too long. He offers to take Mathias to the beach and the young boy makes sure they go where his mother Sandra (Louise Bourgoin) works as a waitress. The three of them hang out over the weekend. Baptiste is quiet and withdrawn and Sandra is intrigued by the mysterious young man who has abruptly entered her life. The attraction between them is palpable but Sandra is dodging serious financial problems which eventually force her to move on. Baptiste can solve her money concerns, but it means going back to life he had long since rejected.
Garcia co-wrote the screenplay with Jacques Fieschi who has a string of hits to his name including Claude Sautet’s Nelly and Mr Arnaud and A Heart In Winter. And together they have produced a film where the action is taut and the dialogue sparse and effective. Pierre Milon’s cinematography keeps the camera in tight on the faces of the actors lending to the film’s voyeuristic feel.
Un Beau Dimanche is essentially two films in one. The first half has an energy fuelled by the mystery behind Baptiste’s hermetic lifestyle and Sandra’s personal and financial woes. Characters enter and exit the story providing a backdrop to the developing relationship between the two main characters. This changes when Baptiste returns to his family. He and Sandra barely exchange a word as Garcia zooms in on the tensions that exist between Baptiste and his brothers, sister and above all his mother. There’s also a mocking tone in Garcia’s depiction of the French Haute Bourgoisie. The famliy’s traditional meal of crayfish and consommé, the endless games of tennis, the belief that teaching is not a decent profession and that no relationship with a member of a lower social class can be serious.
Bourgoin and Rochefort make an attractive couple. With little to go on in the form of meaningful dialogue, Rochefort in particular has a gift for displaying a wide range of emotions. Bourgoin, most well-known to international audiences as Adele Blanc-Sec in Luc Besson’s The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec, is an effective mix of vulnerability and aggression. But top marks go to Dominque Sanda as Baptiste’s mother, Liliane Cambiere. She is cold, calculating and without compassion and provides the key that unlocks the mystery of Baptiste’s character. In French Cinemas: 5/02/2014