Philippe Le Guay’s Floride boasts a magnificent tour de force by veteran actor Jean Rochefort as a senile octogenerian whose daily existence is a confusing mix of fantasy and reality. Alongside Sandrine Kiberlain as the well-meaning daughter caught between practical necessity and filial duty, the two actors flesh out a scenario which fails to capture the black comedy and the subtle shift in the relationship between an ageing parent and child of the original award-winning Florian Zeller play Le Père on which the film is based. Despite the emotionally charged subject matter, Floride lacks heart and, Rochefort’s performance aside, is flat and passionless.
Claude (Rochefort) lives on his own in a rambling house in the southern French town of Annecy. He is looked after by a series of housekeepers who he successfully manages to dispose of by his agressive and unmanageable behaviour. His daughter Carole (Kiberlain) runs the paper mill which used to belong to her father. Between looking after her ageing, unco-operative father and managing the former family business, her relationship with Thomas (Laurent Lucas) begins to show signs of strain. Claude’s younger daughter Alice left France years ago to live in Miami, Florida and has not returned home since. Claude is determined to visit her in the US, but will his diminished mental state make such a journey possible?
As countries the world over cope with an ageing population, Floride raises the timely question of how society deals with caring for the elderly. Le Guay’s film clearly sets out Carole’s dilemma. She loves her father and refuses to admit his need for professional care preferring instead to turn a blind eye to his rude, irrational, bullying behaviour. It’s obvious Claude would be better looked after in old people’s home but Carole’s guilt over her inability to take care of her own father is one increasingly faced by younger generations. Rochefort has been absent from the big screen for over three years and this role sees him pulling out all the stops. At times calculating and cruel, at others childishly mischevious, he never masks the anguish and fear that accompany deteriorating mental health. And Kiberlain’s low-key portrayal as the bewildered daughter is a perfect fit for Rochefort’s bravura performance.
Two of Le Guay’s previous films, Les Femmes du Sixième Etage (Women on the Sixth Floor) and Alceste a Bicyclette (Bicycling with Molière) were major box office hits in France. Teaming up with Florian Zeller who was recently hailed as “one of the hottest literary talents in France” by Britain’s Independent newspaper, should have ensured Floride‘s success. The last time one of Zeller’s play was turned into a film was Patrice Leconte’s end-of-year hit, Une Heure de Tranquilite (Do Not Disturb). Perhaps ultimately Zeller’s more overtly comic works are better suited to a cinematic makeover.