Kervern and Delépine’s highly-accomplished, multi-layered, surreal comedy Saint Amour should go some way to restoring Gérard Depardieu as one of France’s greatest actors. His moving performance in Valley of Love opposite Isabelle Huppert was a show-stopper. But here he adds weight, literally, to the role of Jean, a father desperately trying to connect with his lonely, middle-aged son, Bruno (Belgian actor Benoît Poelvoorde). This off-beat road movie has humour, pathos and oodles of improbable sex, set against the beautiful backdrop of France’s wine-growing regions. But it’s not all played for laughs. Underneath the male bonding, Kervern and Delépine have highlighted the real threat to France’s agricultural industry from the younger generation’s reluctance to choose farming as a career. This adds context to what is an undeniably clever, beautifully paced film – the seventh collaboration for this directing pair.
The highlight of Bruno’s year is the annual agricultural show in Paris which he attends with his father Jean who aims to win a prize with his breeding bull Nabuchodonosor. Bruno aims to go on a wine tasting tour around France moving from one stand to the next without leaving the exhibition hall. He’s tired of being a farmer and wants to get out of the family business. But Jean has other plans for Bruno and to motivate his son he decides, on the spur of the moment, to take him on a real vineyard tour. They hire a young taxi driver named Mike (Vincent Lacoste) and set off on an improvised trip sampling the wines and several unexpected pleasures along the route.
Not content with attracting top tier actors like Depardieu, Poelvoorde and Lacoste, Kervern and Delépine have included cameos from Chiara Mastroianni, Ana Giradot (Un Homme Idéal
, La Prochaine Fois Je Viserai Le Coeur, Le Beau Monde
) and Izia Higelin (Samba
, La Belle Saison)
and an unmissable turn from French novelist Michel Houellebecq as the creepy owner of a boarding house. Céline Sellette (Geronimo
, Vie Sauvage
) completes the excellent cast providing, as a bonus , some of Saint Amour
‘s most memorable and far-fetched scenes. Alongside the banter, it’s the developing relationship between Jean and Bruno that provides the real punch. And here Depardieu shows his real calibre. He may be a mountain of a man, but his face is as expressive as ever. It’s impossible not to sympathise with his slightly befuddled character as he tries to negociate Bruno’s unpredictable nature and build a relationship with his son before it’s too late. Disingenuoulsy dubbed the French Sideways,
in reference to Alexander Payne’s award winning movie, Saint Amour
stands in a class of its own.