An intelligently structured tale of discovery and regret affecting three generations, “The Giraffe’s Neck” is a frequently funny, ultimately bittersweet look at the consequences of entrenched grudges and lingering spite. Pleasingly melancholy road movie is distinguished by an unexpected final twist and outstanding perfs by vet Claude Rich and non-smarmy moppet Louisa Pili. A safe bet for fests, with offshore hardtop dates a distinct possibility, solid debut by writer-director Safy Nebbou hits French cinemas Sept. 29.
Recently divorced Helene (Sandrine Bonnaire) and her stubborn, precocious nine-year-old, Mathilde (Pili), visit Helene’s father Paul (Rich), 74, who’s bored stiff in a retirement home. The defining event of the former bookseller’s life was when his wife, Madeleine, ran off with his best friend some 30 years ago, when Helene was only 10. Cut to the quick, Paul took vengeful steps to make sure Madeleine had no further news of either of them.
Mathilde had always been told her grandmother was dead. So when she discovers a stash of letters from granny, she runs away from home and enlists Paul’s help in tracking down his ex-wife. Paul swipes the retirement home’s van and they’re off on an odyssey with not much more to go on than a return address in Biarritz, several hundred miles away.
While Paul’s friends at the rest home — including ex-cop Leo (one-of-a-kind vet Darry Cowl) — ingeniously cover his absence, father, daughter and granddaughter move toward separate, decisive reckonings. Paul and Mathilde, already close, grow closer; Helene, who’s more or less permanently angry at her father, struggles to re-order her priorities.
Pic pitches camp in the vast cinematic landscape between feel-good and feel-bad, refusing to pander to expectations but also employing consensual storytelling devices. The result — a meditation on what’s useful and what’s futile — is classic filmmaking that’s just original enough to linger in the mind and heart.
Tech package is pro.