(photo credit: PR)
The French film Memories (Les Souvenirs) is an amiable comedy-drama that aspires to be something more but falls short. It tells the story of a troubled but likable Parisian family, the Esnards. The matriarch, Madeleine (played by the beloved Belgian actress Annie Cordy), is grieving over the loss of her husband. But it’s a time of upheaval for several other family members, too. Her son Michel (Michel Blanc, the acclaimed actor who played the title role in the Patrice Leconte film Monsieur Hire), an even-tempered nerd who has been a manager at the post office for his whole working life, has just retired. He says he is going to devote himself to “his passions,” but no one has any idea what those are, least of all him. He spends a lot of time fretting over the fact that his wife, Nathalie (Chantal Lauby), seems to be getting too chummy with her yoga teacher.
Michel’s son, Romain (Mathieu Spinosi), is a literature student moonlighting as a night clerk in a hotel. He is devoted to his charming grandmother and is looking hard for a woman he can fall in love with. His roommate, Karim (William Lebghil), a Frenchman from an Islamic family, is also having a hard time finding the right woman but is more interested in getting women into bed than falling in love.
Madeleine falls in her apartment, and Michel and his brothers decide that she should go into assisted living. The plot of the movie mainly concerns her move into an assisted living facility and how this affects the rest of the family. Her sadness at the situation – which she accepts – contrasts effectively with the forced gaiety of the woman who runs the home.
While Romain is a frequent visitor, Michel and his brothers keep her in the dark about matters that concern her; for example, that they are selling her apartment. At a family funeral, Romain glimpses a beautiful woman he thinks he might love. Frustrated by Michel’s possessiveness, Nathalie asks for a divorce.
The loosely structured plot goes on like this, until Madeleine disappears. Romain takes on the task of finding her and tracks her to Normandy, where she lived as a child. The movie could be an ad for tourism to the region, with its dramatic coastal views. Everyone Romain meets there seems to be kind and intent on helping.
In the last section, many plot threads are tied up, and Madeleine addresses a class of children who are about the age she was when she had to leave “because of the war.” No one – not Madeleine, Romain, the children or their teacher – questions why exactly she had to flee just then, but the clear indication is that she is Jewish (although it’s possible that she had to leave for other reasons). It seems a missed opportunity to add a little depth to the story, both in terms of giving some historical context and also emphasizing what leaving this idyllic region meant to Madeleine.
A few touches reveal that director Jean-Paul Rouve was influenced by Francois Truffaut, that master French New Wave director who nearly always had a strong affection for his characters, as Rouve does. The classic song “Que reste-t-il de nos amours?” plays in several scenes. The song was featured in Truffaut’s 1968 film Stolen Kisses
, and the title of that film comes from a line in the song.
A nice subplot in Memories
could come out of a Truffaut movie: Romain and Madeleine visit and heap praise on an artist who has done an awful animal painting that decorates the assisted-living facility. The two characters bond over their annoyance at the kitschy artwork but also develop an unexpected affection for the artist, who returns to the painting career he had abandoned because of their encouragement.
But while Rouve refers to Truffaut here and there, the characters and plot of Memories
lack the depth and complexity that made Truffaut’s films classics.
The mild pleasure of Memories
comes mainly from watching the talented ensemble cast. The standouts are Annie Cordy, who conveys the sorrow and dignity her character experiences beautifully, and the stunning Mathieu Spinosi as her grandson.