My Old Lady
dir-scr Israel Horovitz
prd Nitsa Benchetrit, Gary Foster
with Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, Noemie Lvovsky, Stephane Freiss, Dominique Pinon, Stephane De Groodt, Nathalie Newman, Jean-Christophe Allais, Christian Rauth, Delphine Lanson, Sophie Touitou
release US 10.Sep.14, UK 21.Nov.14
14/UK BBC 1h47
My Old Lady
I own you: Kline and Smith

smith scott thomas pinon
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
My Old Lady An oddball sensibility keeps this gentle drama from ever turning maudlin or sentimental, even as the story takes some potentially melodramatic turns. Relaxed performances and a revelation-packed script (based on writer-director Horovitz's play) keep the audience entertained while being poked by some surprisingly sharp edges.

At the end of his rope, Jim (Kline) flies from New York to Paris to sell the flat his estranged father left him in his will. But the flat turns out to be a "viager", which means the past owner can live out their life in the property. And 92-year-old Mathilde (Smith) resides there with her daughter Chloe (Scott Thomas). Jim and Chloe instantly lock horns about selling the absurdly spacious flat to a developer (Friess). And Jim is so intent on making some cash that he ignores the story revealing itself all around him.

Actually, Jim is jerk who would be thoroughly dislikable if he weren't played by an actor as charming as Kline. The script works overtime to justify his internal misery, but it's Kline's generous touches that hold the audience's sympathies. Smith and Scott Thomas are also solid in less-spiky roles as women confronted with some shocking truths about their own lives. Although as these three characters circle entertainingly around each other, the hint of a romance feels a bit unnecessary.

Thankfully, Horovitz doesn't overplay that angle, which is the weakest element of the carefully constructed plot. Much more interesting are the comments on the old versus new worlds, as Mathilde's occupancy of her home hinges on a remarkably humane law that seems arcane by ruthless capitalist standards. She also makes a living by bartering her English-teaching skills to pay for things like medical care and food. It's easy to forget that people got along happily this way for centuries before the drive for private profit took over.

Not that this film is preaching any message. It is packed with ideas that generate thought without telling the audience how to feel about them. And in the end the focus is on how applying blame for our woes only succeeds in bringing our life to a screeching halt. Everyone is flawed, everyone is damaged, everyone has issues that need dealing with. And the only mistake we make is to spend all our time looking backwards rather than at the possibilities ahead.

cert 12 themes, language 12.Oct.14

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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall