After a couple of frothy romantic comedies starring doe-eyed Audrey Tautou – Beautiful Lies (2010) and Priceless (2006), – Pierre Salvadori does a 360° turn with Dans La Cours, a downbeat, melancholic drama about insanity, ageing and friendship. Despite the formidable Catherine Deneuve in one of the lead roles, its unrelenting misery makes for heavy viewing.
Deneuve plays Mathilde, who lives in an apartment block in Paris with her husband Serge (Feodore Atkine). Antoine (Gustave Kervern) is an ageing musician who has walked away from his former life and taken a job as concierge in the same building as the retired couple. Antoine’s half-hearted approach to his new job is hampered by his drug and alcohol addiction, but he soon finds his place among the odd-ball tenants who make up the rest of the building’s occupants. Mathilde’s crumbling sanity is represented by a large crack that appears on the wall of her apartment. As she becomes more obsessed by fears the apartment building is on the verge of collapse, she turns to Antoine for comfort and the two strike up an unusual friendship.
Colourful characters living in apartment blocks in Paris have often proved fertile ground for French filmmakers most recently with Phillippe Le Guay’s Les Femmes du 6eme Etage (The Women on the Sixth Floor). But Salvadori’s characters are are so lightly sketched they are mere plot devices or provide light – very light – comic relief. There is the drug addict who supplies Antoine, the screwball architect who nags Antoine over other tenant’s behaviour, the Russian immigrant who squats in the storage building and belongs to a nutty religious sect. Salvadori seems to suggests contact with the other tenants gradually restores Antoine’s will to live, but his acts of kindness are motivated more by apathy than a genuine desire to help.
Only his relationship with Mathilde appears to have meaning, and this with a woman who is gradually sliding towards insanity dragging Antoine down with her. Kervern’s low key performance is in perfect synch with the vein of despondency that runs throughout the film. Kerven is usually found on the other side of the camera with comedies like Mammuth and Louise Michel so this film is a definite change of register for him. Deneuve is just too glamourous to play the role of a downtrodden woman who is losing her grip on reality. And, unlike Kerven, she doesn’t appear to dig too deep for this performance.
Salvadori needed to shed light on some of the film’s darker moments to make it a less morale-sapping trip.