Director Christian Carion (“Joyeux Noel”) directs “Driving Madeline,” a sweet and small film that succeeds in large part due to the understatement of its actors in spite of what could have been handwringing melodrama. That being said, this film has some definitive pulls on the cordes sensibles, and one would be well served in bringing some tissues.
In Paris, the hassled and short-tempered Charles (Dany Boon) is summoned to drive Madeline (Line Renaud), a calm nonagenarian, around the city. At first the two have nothing to say to each other. But as Charles is stuck in traffic, Madeline is curious. Charles says he has a wife and daughter. He feels beaten down by the daily grind. He doesn’t get to see his family much. The three want to go on vacation.
Madeline rhapsodizes about her first boyfriend Matt, a G.I. in WWII but they broke up due to distance and misfortune. Madeline had a young son Mathieu (Hadriel Roure) and met the seemingly handsome Ray (Jérémie Laheurte) a very violent angry and abusive man. Ray beat Mathieu with deep and lasting savagery. Madeline takes matters into her own hands and burns Ray’s penis with a blow torch. She is sentenced to prison. Charles understands Madeline circumstances but is greatly surprised.
A rapport ensues.
Madeline wants to experience it all while Charles feels a sense of freedom in Madeline’s seasoned spontaneity.
While the narrative is somewhat predictable, Line Renaud is wonderful seeing everything for the first time and possessing an excellent mixture of quizzical delight and cool reserve. It is a joy to watch this actor and her kind charisma. There is an innocence and a lightness to her being and the camera loves her.
Dany Boon is solid here too as the straight man to Madeline’s glee and wistful ruminations. The two actors balance each other perfectly with a shared chemistry.
The dramatic progression might seem maudlin in other hands, but Christian Carion keeps the drama soft, subtle, and affecting. This is about human emotion rather than sopping wet tears. By the time the two characters part, one is left with an oasis of friendship rather than a watery pool of sadness. All the more credit to the sly verve of Renaud’s Madeline. Her understatement is so masterful that she makes the epistle moment almost superfluous.
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