Actor/director Jean-Paul Rouve’s Les Souvenirs is a syrupy, lightweight drama based on the novel by David Foenkinos which deals with the problems faced by people at opposite ends of adult life. Romain (Mathieu Spinosi) is a 23-year-old student seeking the love of his life while his 85-year-old grandmother (Annie Cordy) is stuggling to find meaning to her existence after the death of her husband. Caught in the middle is the grandmother’s eldest son Michel (Michel Leblanc) who is content to sidestep responsibility for his aged mother by placing her against her will into a retirement home. The relationship between Romain and his grandmother is the central core of the film and Rouve covers all the bases of a US-style, feel good movie, but Les Souvenirs lacks depth and the characters and their indvidiual concerns are instantly forgettable.
Romain has an enviably close relationship with his grandmother – they share a sense of humour and take an obvious delight in each other’s company. Romain’s father has just retired and is in denial about the effect on his life and his marriage. After the grandmother has an accident at home, the sons decide she needs to be looked after around the clock. But the grandmother has other ideas. She disappears from the home only to turn up in the seaside town in Normandy where she spent her childhood. Romain goes in search of his beloved grandmother and finds not only a lonely old woman in search of her past, but an unexpected love affair.
Rouve neatly bookends his film with two funerals and the intervening space covers a lot of emotional ground – the lack of independence in old age, the loneliness of both older and younger generations, the unwelcome effects of retirement, how to find love in the 21st century. But this kaleidoscope of issues detracts from the emotional pull of the film. Better to concentrate on the more interesting story of the grandmother and the mutually dependent relationship with Romain or Michel and his deteriorating relationship with his wife Nathalie ( Chantal Lauby). Rouve clearly has an offbeat sense of humour and the secondary characters he introduces into the narrative (the over-worked policeman (Arnaud Henriet), the blunt travel agent (Blanche Gardin), the cartoonish manager of the retirement home (Audrey Lamy), the lovesick room mate (William Lebghil)) are the more satisfying elements of the film.
There is definitely a nod to older audiences with the casting of Cordy in the role of grandmother. She has been a hugely popular variety singer in France for over 50 years and is something of an institution alongside French singers like Johnny Hallyday or Edie Mitchell. Cordy is certainly sympathetic and appealing in the role. But there is also something for younger audience with the casting of Audrey Lamy and William Lebghil. Lamy stars in a hugely successful, prime time TV show, Scènes de Ménages, on the M6 TV channel, while Lebghil acts alongside the popular comic actor and stand-up comedian Kev Adams (Fiston, Les Profs) in the TV comedy Soda.