A wealthy lawyer drops out of the bourgeoisie to live his own life in the delightfully offbeat directing debut of noted French actor Jean-Pierre Darroussin, “The Premonition.” The sympathetic Darroussin, who has often worked with helmer Robert Guedijian, casts himself as the main character in Emmanuel Bove’s novel about a man trying to throw off the shackles of alienation and social conditioning. Pic’s intriguing, twist-ridden narration will certainly hook festival auds, but its open-ended style and multiple-choice ending are likely to slim its box office potential.
Forty-seven-year-old Charles Benesteau (Darroussin), dressed in suit and tie, rides his bike through Paris to his humble apartment on a low-rent, multi-ethnic street where he moved after he left his pretentious wife Alice (Anne Canovas), an art maven and socialite.
His wealthy relatives beg him to come to his senses and move back to the Right Bank, but Charles is too pig-headed. Yet, despite his extremism and self-effacing masochism, the audience is firmly on his side and against the nastiness of his highfalutin family.
The neo-hermit Charles holes up in his new digs to do some writing, until his noisy neighbors butt in. When workman Tomas (Ivan Franek) nearly beats his cheating wife to death, the neighborhood foists the couple’s teenage daughter Sabrina (Amandine Janin) off on gentleman Charles. He nobly takes in the girl, who looks like pure jail-bait, along with a sultry seamstress-turned-nanny named Isabelle (Valerie Stroh) to look after her. His quiet life is over.
With so much comic potential in the story, Darroussin takes the less likely directing route of a fairly straight character study with touches of whimsy. He lightens Charles’ resignation and misanthropy with fine manners and generosity, rounding him out nicely.
Other thesps are vivid, but look like caricatures beside him. In the last part of the film, the story takes a new direction when Charles falls ill, and from that point on, the film splits into parallel realities, leaving it up to the viewer to decide what really happens.
Never boring, the story is spiked with illuminating touches, like a stranger who pours out concern for Charles in a park, or the collective protection offered to their own by his busybody neighbors (who include accomplished thesps like Stroh and Franek).
Tech work is discreet but effective.