Friday, 17 October 2014

BFI Film Festival - My Old Lady

Each year, the film I see there always seems to be a theme. Two years ago it was all about 'fathers', last year seemed to be about personal journeys usually centred around a young guy. This year seems to be the rule of three.

My second screening was at one of my favourite cinema sights, Mayfair Curzon, such comfy seating but very small foyer. The film, from the Journey section of the film, My Old Lady, adapted from the play of the same name. Tragic and in some places humorous, bitter sweet to taste and the cast, no one under 50. Brilliant. Sounds strange to say, but it was a film with damaged characters you do care about but I didn't tear up.

Kevin Kline, Dame Maggie Smith and Kristen Scott-Thomas (forgotten how good an actress she is) are the players. I say players because the film felt like a play, but I'm glad I saw the film version. Jim (Kline) arrives in Paris after his father's death and goes to the apartment he was left in the will hoping to sell it. Jim is nearly 60, divorced three times and has nothing in the world except the apartment. But it's is a "viager", which is an old French system for buying and selling apartments. A property bought cheaply but the catch is, a old person resides in it. The occupant is Mathilde (Smith). When Jim says he wants to sell the place, Chloe (Scott-Thomas), Mathilde's daughter, has another plan.

The set up seems simple, the characters you've seen before and a story that seems to have a simple or little solution. But, just like a play, after the surface is scratched, more information is given, the truth comes out and finally a satisfying conclusion. 

The rule of three that I refer to is that the story at first seemed to revolve around just Jim and Mathilde but the poison of history soon infects Chloe. The story is lighthearted at first, Jim is portrayed as selfish, Mathilde as naive and gentle, Chloe as bitter but the revelation about the apartments sale origins, Jim's childhood and heartless father, the tale quickly becomes tragic for everyone. Two adults' lives are ruined and a naive old lady thinks they did the best thing. The line 'it was different times back then' couldn't be more hurtful and careless.

Thankfully, after all the truth is out in the open, the characters can heal and the ending, though a bit too sped up for liking, makes sense and is lighthearted once more. At first I was puzzled why the film was in the 'Journey' section but this is a personal journey and a brilliant film.

It was great to see Kevin Kline again too in a much more sensible role than the ridiculous  roles in 'Last Vegas' and 'No Strings Attached'. Maggie Smith was also impressive as Mathilde, a woman with a vibrant past who had 'modern' views, even 'back then'.


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