Our Old Men
“Ravishing Paris of quiet back streets and familiar locales” is not all that cinematically present or ravishing. My Old Lady, Israel Horovitz’ film directorial début, is an adaptation of his 2002 stage play that essentially takes place in the interiors of an apartment and of three people. As in much romantic comedy, the trajectory is obvious from initial dislike and squabbling to true love; but the witty wordplay sparring that sparkles genre classics is as absent here as from most of its modern brethren.
Kevin Kline earns high marks for The Last of Robin Hood, a performance demonstrating the chops he had never really been given the opportunity to show. Fine looking at sixty-six, he is no ladies’ man here in MOL but, like Errol Flynn, a failed desperate being at the end of his rope. Like the no-longer young Chloé Girard (Kristin Scott Thomas) with whom he’ll lock horns like the mounted animal heads her late father hunted in Africa, his Mathias Gold is emotionally crippled by childhood scar tissue.
She keeps her wounds invisible under stoic lock and key, teaching English at the language academy formerly owned by her mother Mathilde (Maggie Smith), with whom she stills lives, and fooling herself in an affaire with married balding father of two Philippe (Stéphane De Groodt).
The current film offers no witty repartee but instead depends on an onion-layers unpeeling of these characters’ innards, to reveal surprising but not absolutely improbable interconnectedness and similar parental relationships (or lack thereof).
He shows up in the City of Light with everything he still owns in a carryon bag. Totally broke, friendless, abrasive and a disaster at love, he has left behind three exes and no children. Unsuccessful at suicide as well, he is precariously off the booze but carries baggage in images of the abandoned mother who blew her brains out right in front of him and the absent father who, six blocks away in Manhattan, did not acknowledge or probably even know of the son’s abortive wrist-slitting.
Mathias has come, or fled, to sell the Paris flat inherited from that father and is unscrupulous enough to stoop to petty theft, spying and blackmail. Arguably less unscrupulous is prospective buyer François Roy (Stéphane Freiss), at one point said to speak no English but at others fluent enough to advance several sums of money and haggle over a twelve-million-euro price tag, aiming to turn the building into yet the third of his tacky soulless luxury hotels that ruin neighborhoods. The developer is opposed by Chloé, whose importance and inner resentments have been expanded from the original stage work. The true obstacle to the sale, however, lies in the archaic, complicated French regulation regarding viager, a life annuity which not only prevents sale of the place or eviction during longtime tenant Mathilde’s lifetime but goes further and enables her to collect a monthly 2,400-euro rent from owner him.
Red herrings along the way -- a stuffed wild boar’s head, W.B. Yeats’s soul that claps its hands, jazz and Django, a singing woman on the Seine embankment joined by an abruptly language-savvy Mathias -- vie with conveniently located black-and-white photographs to test credulity, even if basic connections and buried human ashes that need to be uncovered are plausible enough.
The key to the connectedness is held by ninety-two-year-old Mme. G, though her English-language student and physician (Florence Horowitz, played by Noémie Lvovsky) must legitimize the nature of certain relationships and Mathias must force the unwinding of mysteries. Interest lies not in snappy dialogue, of which there is none, but in unraveling hidden complications towards the obvious happy ending uniting past, present and future. The result is not objectionable but nowhere near the magic spell that such a promising cast ought to have been enabled to cast.
(Released by Cohen Media Group and rated “PG-13” for thematic material and some sexual references.)