“Milestones” boasts one of the better-thought-out Gallic scripts in recent memory, rendering an utterly implausible adventure as convincing as it is touching. Tragicomic road movie, in which the four male buddies and younger sister of an abruptly deceased young photojournalist endeavor to transport his cadaver from a morgue near Paris to a beach in Italy, is a fine character study full of engaging turns. Good word of mouth, along with general interest in rising young thesp Emma de Caunes, could put actor-turned-helmer Alain Beigel’s debut feature firmly on the map, at least locally.
Shy avant-garde theater director Theo (Pierre Berriau), resourceful slacker Mika (Raphael Krepser), store clerk Jean (Bruno Solo) and medical student Pascal (Nicolas Abraham) are goofing off en route to visit their good buddy Romain in hospital — only to discover he’s already dead. Pic strikes a spot-on tone as the four friends, who are cresting 30, realize they’ll never get to hang out with Romain again.
Romain’s father (Roberto Herlitzka) gives them a video his son made. It turns out Romain taped a last request — that his mortal remains be burned Indonesian-style on a pyre at a spot in Italy that meant a lot to him.
In the spirit of ultimate friendship, the motley crew — egged on by Jean — decide to drop their workaday commitments and honor their pal’s request, however impractical or illegal. With Romain’s objecting sister, Nina (de Caunes) , along for the ride, they manage to steal Romain’s body from the hospital, put it on ice in the trunk and embark on an improbable journey whose dramatic and comic underpinnings last the distance.
Although the car runs out of gas, the narrative never does. Light and serious at the same time, pic is quietly, consistently inventive as the obstacle-laden itinerary is filmed with ingenuity and elegance. From creative solutions for getting through border checks to a strange and wonderful detour with a suicidal Japanese woman (Japanese singer Leona Hirota), sequences that could be cloying, smarmy or simply tedious are rendered with just the right mix of drama and levity.
Ensemble cast is aces, summery widescreen lensing in France, Switzerland and Italy both scenic and snappy, and music just right.