Eric Guirado's documentary background grants a rare richness of detail and unforced humor to his seductive second feature, "The Grocer's Son," the classic story of a city-dwelling prodigal son's reluctant return to his rural roots.

Eric Guirado’s documentary background grants a rare richness of detail and unforced humor to his seductive second feature, “The Grocer’s Son,” the classic story of a city-dwelling prodigal son’s reluctant return to his rural roots. Familiar tropes abound: broody hero, demanding father, resentful brother, beautiful countryside, eccentric countryfolk. But figures and landscapes are limned with a casual intimacy and deep-rooted authenticity that will prove as irresistible to audiences as it ultimately does to pic’s hero. Summertime sleeper in France could lend a Gallic accent to the quaint-Euro-import niche exemplified by the British likes of “The Full Monty” and “Billy Elliot.”

Antoine (Nicolas Cazale) has not spoken to his father (Daniel Duval) in the decade since he stormed out of the family house and grocery business in Provence. Yet even in the city, Antoine hasn’t strayed far from his food-service roots, working a succession of waiter gigs, all short-lived, due to his surliness and general inability to suffer fools gladly (seen firsthand as he disses his soon-to-be ex-boss).

When his father has a heart attack, Antoine returns home. While his mother (Jeanne Goupil)looks after his dad, Antoine mans the fully stocked truck-cum-mobile-store, motoring from hamlet to hamlet to service largely geriatric inhabitants and a few stray tourists.

Impatient and barely civil, Antoine is almost as miserable in the country as he was in the city, until he’s joined by Claire (a radiant Clotilde Hesme), his neighbor from Lyon, who takes to his grocery rounds like a duck to water.

Impishly spontaneous, genuinely curious about people, Claire transforms the truck into the “Flying Grocer,” suitably bedaubed with brightly hued fruits and vegetables. Her mischievous manner disarms and charms the equally colorful elderly clientele, chief among them the tart-tongued Lucienne (Liliane Rovere), who delights in giving Antoine a hard time.

Thesping is remarkable throughout. Cazale’s slow blossoming remains utterly convincing and suitably sexy at every stage, while Hesme can transform a desultory rummage through a general store into a voyage of discovery.

Guirado, who followed several itinerant grocers on their routes in past documentaries, and co-scripter Florence Vignon have fashioned a tale that, though quite relaxed and open to serendipity, contains its share of tense encounters and unexpected acts — some gently comedic, others unexpectedly dark.

“The Grocer’s Son” may not rank with “The Baker’s Wife,” but it proves a worthy follower of the bucolic, humanistic tradition of Marcel Pagnol and Jean Renoir, never condescending or cutesy as it celebrates an endangered, stubbornly individualist lifestyle. Tech credits are quietly superb, Laurent Brunet’s lensing transitioning from taut indoor confrontations to serene outdoor vistas with easygoing familiarity.

The Grocer's Son

France

Production

A Film Movement (in North America)/Les Films du Losange (in France) release of a TS Prods., Rhone Alpes Cinema production, with the participation of Canal Plus. (International sales: Les Films du Losange, Paris.) Produced by Milena Poylo, Gilles Sacuto. Directed, written by Eric Guirado.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Laurent Brunet; editor, Pierre Haberer; music, Christophe Boutin; production designer, Valerie Faynot; costume designer, Ann Dunsford; sound (DTS Stereo SR), Nicolas Favre; casting, Brigitte Moidon. Reviewed at Rendez-vous With French Cinema, New York, March 5, 2008. Running time: 96 MIN.

With

Nicolas Cazale, Clotilde Hesme, Daniel Duval, Jeanne Goupil, Stephan Guerin Tillie, Liliane Rovere, Chad Chenouga, Paul Crauchet.
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