And If We All Lived Together
Credits: Directed by Stéphane Robelin and starring Jane Fonda, Geraldine Chaplin, Claude Rich, Pierre Richard, Daniel Brühl, Guy Bedos, Bernard Malaka, Camino Texeira, Gwendoline Hamon and Shemss Audat.
Synopsis: Annie (Géraldine Chaplin), Jean (Guy Bedos), Claude (Claude Rich), Albert (Pierre Richard) and Jeanne (Jane Fonda) have been friends for more than 40 years. So when memories let them down, heart rates quicken and their families plot their futures in retirement homes they decide to rebel and all live together. To help make their lives easier they hire a young student (Daniel Brühl), who is initially a quiet observer but is soon drawn into the group dynamic. Their new communal lifestyle provides plenty of surprises, challenges and adventure but soon stirs up memories and hidden secrets from years gone by.
Home truths abound in French boomer dramedy.
its very character and mood holds within it a sharp rejoinder to toxic clichés
And If We All Lived Together? had me thinking about the way age and aging is depicted in the movies. It can be grimly tragic or wackily comic and sometimes a clear-eyed celebration of family bonds. Behind all these story shapes lies the notion that getting old is something the younger among us must prepare for. It is, in other words, a bleak future. Here that future is something else again; sad, yes, troubled, yes. But hopeless? Without life affirming pleasures? Absolutely not.
I certainly don’t think that writer-director Stéphane Robelin’s delightful French comedy-drama is on a mission – exactly – to correct some long held (movie made and widely accepted) misconceptions about getting old. The film is too modest, too light of touch, for that kind of earnest bombast. Still, its very character and mood – its plot – holds within it a sharp rejoinder to toxic clichés. The mood is light throughout and buoyed with an optimism that’s all the more infectious since it’s ringed with so many unhappy home truths.
There’s a scene about halfway through where one of the film’s cast of 70-somethings tries to explain – to a much younger man – that being old doesn’t mean one just "stops". Sex, ambition, desire, and one’s principles are still alive and well and still throbbing with life. The body, though, offers up daily betrayals.
Robelin’s storyline is about five baby boomers, all buddies since their twenties, who escape the calcified atmosphere of the Pensioners Home by electing to join a growing social trend: they will live together. This solution means they can look after each other’s needs and no longer have to tolerate the patronising clucking from institutionalised do-gooders or the fey angst of family members who worry but do nothing but provide convenient solutions to complex problems.
What prompts this move into communal living is a series of private and public crises amongst the group. Jeanne (Jane Fonda, who is great here), an academic, learns that she has a fatal disease, though she tells no one, including husband Albert (Pierre Richard), who is showing troubling signs of dementia. Jean (Guy Bedos), a left-winger and activist married to Annie (Geraldine Chaplin), grows increasingly angry with the feeling that his efforts to remain politically engaged are going unnoticed. (He gets pissed off when, during a violent demo, he’s not arrested.) Then there’s Claude (Claude Rich), a confirmed bachelor and photographer who enjoys making erotic portraits and regularly visits prostitutes. Still, even Claude has issues: his heart hasn’t got the stamina even if he has.
Of course, Robelin’s ironic joke here is that this communal style of living means for these five this is a kind of trip back in time. It doesn’t take too long once the five move into Jean and Annie’s large, rambling suburban pile before old feuds, frustrations and the trace elements of love affairs long soured arise. How all this works out is one of the film’s pleasures, so enough said.
The film was captured on HD by cinematographer Dominique Colin and the images seem filled with space and a promising warming softness. But there’s never anything obvious, cloying or pushy about the style. It’s the kind of careful, subtle stylisation that plays and feels as immediate as a documentary.
What’s really fine and winning about the film is the way that once the cast is all together in that big comfy house and the picture becomes a real ensemble piece, we get a powerful sense of who these characters really are, to each other, to themselves and to the past.
I don’t think the film is quite a paean to the ‘60s and baby boomer radical philosophy as some critics disdainfully dismissed it as. I think the story’s leftist sympathisers know their time is over and accept that. As people, they want to end their adult lives the way they began them: as independent thinkers supported by friends. They want to elect how best to depart the world.
The cast and Robelin pull off an extraordinary coup here; these characters stop being ‘old’. We can easily see them, what they were like, their habits and behavior as twenty-somethings. This is most unlike similarly shaped stories and nostalgia pieces like The Big Chill, where you never really saw the star actors’ ‘youth’. But with this subtle shift in perception Robelin makes a fine and moving argument: souls, that is, our very essence, may mature but never truly grow old. I’m not sure if that’s true or wise, but if it is, it’s something to look forward to, no?
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