Adapting his own 2006 graphic novel, debuting writer-director Pascal Rabate’s “Wandering Streams” is a pleasingly low-key comedy of late-life second chances. Daniel Prevost toplines a cast of familiar Gallic faces as a retired widower inspired by a dead friend’s secret hijinks to spice up his own staid existence. Shorn of the condescending cuteness that usually accompanies comedies about elders reviving dormant sex lives, this is an appealing item with potential for further export (it opened in France and Belgium last summer, the Netherlands in February) as well as remake possibilities.
Prevost’s Emile is a 70-ish former horticulturalist who once raised bonsai trees “because they don’t take up too much room.”
Indeed, his whole existence is safe and uneventful to a fault, somewhat juiced by friendship with raucous fishing companion Edmond (Philippe Nahon). Still, they trade pleasantries rather than confidences — so Emile is shocked when it turns out his elderly pal watches porn, paints nudes and shags women who are his contemporaries that he meets online.
These revelations are followed shortly by Edmond’s untimely demise, leaving Emile suddenly aware that life is short, and he’s hardly living it to the fullest. A chance meeting with attractive widow Lucie (Bulle Ogier), one of his friend’s conquests, raises the possibility of romance. But an awkward moment related to his new tendency to see clothed women naked — there’s considerable septuagenarian nudity here — sends him running.
Running clear out of town, in fact, on a an impulsive road trip. Visiting his rambling childhood home, he meets its current residents — a half-dozen young squatters living blithely off the grid — and for a spell fits easily into their alt-lifestyle, smoking weed, skinny-dipping and boffing babes. But fate has something else in store, in the form of a divorcee (Helene Vincent) met under unpleasant circumstances that soon turn mutually quite pleasant indeed.
Rabate and crew resist the temptation to caricature or otherwise go over the top with Emile’s late flowering. Prevost retains a charming, dignified modesty of demeanor even when he’s helpless with stoner laughter, and the humor throughout is a matter of droll details rather than laugh-out-loud gags. The one brash element is Alain Pewzner’s original score, which provides a nice ironic counterpoint to the protag’s milquetoast beginnings by laying on incongruous 1970s-soundtrack brass and 1960s sitar.
Cast is expert, ditto the tech and design contributions, with Benoit Chamaillard’s widescreen lensing unshowy yet deft.