MY OLD LADY
Mathias (Kevin Kline), a down-and-out New Yorker, travels to Paris to liquidate a huge, valuable apartment he has inherited from his estranged father. Once there, however, he discovers a refined old woman Mathilde (Maggie Smith) living in the apartment with her daughter ChloŽ (Kristin Scott Thomas). Mathias quickly learns that the apartment is a "viager" - an ancient French system for buying and selling apartments - and that he will not actually get possession of the apartment until Mathilde dies. While working with a Parisian real-estate dealer (Dominique Pinon), to sell his contract for the apartment, Mathias discovers that Mathilde and his father were more to each other than mere tenant and landlord...
Review by Louise Keller:
An inheritance is a curse and a blessing in this complex entanglement about lovers and the children who pay the price. Infidelities, cross cultures and untangling the past are the potent themes. Director Israel Horovitz has adapted his stage play to deliver an engrossing story for grown-ups that relies on the nuances, intricacies and human foibles that all the characters exhibit. Relying on its excellent cast of Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas and Kevin Kline, who as the protagonist and outsider arrives in Paris with hopes of a fresh start, but finds to his horror, he has opened Pandora's box. Amid the frustrations and emotional turmoil when wounds of the past are reopened, there are also humorous moments. Horovitz manages the tone beautifully: a delicate balance of lightness and depth.
The film begins with Mathias Gold (Kline) making his way to a large apartment in Le Marais to claim his inheritance after his father's death. His optimism quickly turns to dismay when he learns from Mathilde Girard (Smith), the elderly woman snoozing in her armchair in the apartment, that he has not only inherited the property, but her, the tenant, to whom it has been leased for the duration of her life. We can sense the smirk as Mathilde informs Mathias he will need to pay her the tidy rental sum of 2,400 Euros per month from that moment or his contract will be null and void.
The Anglo-French atmosphere in the house is nicely managed with Chloe (Scott Thomas) speaking to her mother in French, while Mathilde uses a mix of French and English on different occasions. Mathias speaks no French. Smith is perfectly cast as the 92 year old matriarch, who dines promptly each night at 8 and declares that 'Englishness is so obvious, you have no choice', delighting in that first sip of an excellent bottle of wine. Her skill in slowly revealing her secret past is paramount, restraining from divulging the all-critical pieces of the puzzle until the end. Mathilde is a formidable character, who not only prompts the thrice divorced, former alcoholic Mathias to drink again, but pushes him to the end of his rope.
But Mathias is not the only one. Chloe is also is pushed into a corner, when ghosts of the past (in the company of all the stuffed animals on the wall) make their presence felt. Sparks fly as Mathias and Chloe clash and the scene when Mathias flogs some of the furniture in the house, is black comedy. Watch out for Dominic Pinon, the convivial real estate agent who lives in 'the blood of Paris'. As Mathias tries to sell the apartment to a developer, complete with his tenant, he uses all his wiles to shift the dynamic.
There is nothing simple about the emotional journey encountered through these complicated relationships as we learn that 'love is a limited substance'. The lead up to the film's climax is both tense and powerful. There is a great sense of release as hidden truths are exposed and the catharsis from acceptance and vulnerabilities is achieved. Offering much more than imaginable at first glance, this is a sophisticated and satisfying film, directed with great sensitivity.
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MY OLD LADY (M)
CAST: Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith, Dominique Pinon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Noemie Lvovsky, Stephane De Groodt
PRODUCER: Nitsa Benchetrrit, Gary Foster
DIRECTOR: Israel Horovitz
SCRIPT: Israel Horovitz (play by Horovitz)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Michael Amathieu
EDITOR: Stephanie Ahn, Jacob Craycroift
MUSIC: Mark Orton
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Pierre-Francois Limbosch
RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: eOne Entertainment
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 13, 2014