Belles Familles (Families) – Jean-Paul Rappeneau

UnknownIt’s taken 83-year-old Cyrano de Bergerac director Jean-Paul Rappeneau 13 years to produce a follow-up to his war-time drama Bon Voyage. Belles Familles is a drama of a different order centred around the efforts of a bourgeois family to sell their magnificent family home and move on with their lives. It has a top notch cast including Mathieu Amalric as the Shanghai-based elder son, Nicole Garcia as his mother, Karin Viard as the late father’s ex-mistress, Gilles Lellouche as an upstart property developer and the superb André Dussollier as a beleaguered small-town mayor. The film has stacks of energy and gradually works up nicely to a farcical, if highly improbable ending, but the frenzy fails to disguise the meagreness of a plot which is stretched paper-thin. It’s all very old school and dated despite the best efforts of Dussollier et al. France is country slowly recovering from a devastating economic crisis and it’s difficult to get excited about the problems facing this upper-middle class family.

Jérôme Varenne (Amalric) is on a fleeting visit to Paris to introduce his fiancée Chen-Lin (Gemma Chan) to his mother (Garcia) and his younger brother (Guillaume de Tonquédec). Over dinner he learns his family home is at the centre of a local dispute between the town major (Dussollier) and property developer and old-school friend Grégoire Piaggi (Lellouche). He decides to visit the town where he grew up to try and resolve the problem. But he reluctantly finds himself becoming personally involved in the feud when he meets Florence, his father’s ex-mistress (Viard) and her beautiful daughter Louise (Marine Vacth), who is also Piaggi’s girlfriend.
Rappeneau is not the most prolific of French directors. In his 56-year career he has produced just nine films, most notably the award winning Cyrano de Bergerac with Gérard Depardieu in the title role. He has decribed Belles Famillies as his come-back film and says it is one of his most personal projects to date. This could explain the introspective nature of the storyline at the expense of any real emotional pull and the desire to neatly tie up the plot’s loose ends. Amalric is faultless as the dutiful son who wants to put his own family first, but is an honourable man who believes in doing the right thing. Lellouche overplays his hand turning Piaggi into an over-blown bully while Dussollier is woefully underused as the oily, opportunistic mayor.  Wacth who first came to the public’s attention as the young prositute in Francois Ozon’s Jeune et Jolie shows great versatility as the young temptress who manages to beguile both Piaggi and Lellouche. Co-written by Philippe Le Guay (Floride) and the director’s son Julien Rappeneau  (My Way), the director’s return to the big screen does not mark a return to his best form.

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