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L’étudiante et Monsieur Henri (2015)

CRUMBLIES… 4 crumblies

You know that bitter dream you have sometimes: a crazily pretty girl wants to stay in your spare room and agrees to wreck your tiresome son’s marriage to a Godly idiot by flirting him into a midlife crisis? With bikini moments. And some classy piano moments. And you get to grouch like a pro through the whole thing…?

Well, the French made a film. Again.

Et le film est charmant.

Old Jack had reached the end of his winter cold and was spitting up the last bits of phlegm when this one popped up in the TV room. It was just the tonic. A film of no surprises, but gently presented clichés, it is warmly funny and made immensely watchable by the work of Noémie Schmidt as Constance (the student) and the wonderful Claude Brasseur as Henri.

Brasseur goes properly dour in this part (no doubt freeing himself of the damage Truffaut did to his psyche), giving the student no quarter. She’s out if anything goes wrong; she’s out if she breaks the deal. Nicely done. The undertone of his sadness and ancient grief is underplayed in favour of the overtones of rage. His successful work life and cruel personal life have made him a disappointed man.

Noémie Schmidt in turn is natural, fated and funny. There’s more than a touch of gallic Hermione Grainger going on (often the only way to get the grandkids to watch things with subtitles), although Constance cannot study for shit, panics in exams and lies to her family about failing. She needs a cheap refuge in Paris to keep her clear of a life at her demanding Dad’s stall back in Orléans. Half way through the film and even the grandmas in the TV room wanted to take her in.

As you might expect, there is ultimately a closer link between Constance and Henri than with his son. There is a touch of early devilment in there: a free room if she flirts Guillaume de Tonquédec’s foolishly early mid-life Paul into destroying his marriage. Easy. Really easy. The wife is irritating and all Constance needs do is smile, show interest in sports, literature and swimming. Paul is lost from the moment he swims up to her bikinied Frenchness and dives into a world of leather jackets, snubs on the dance floor and digital stalking. Henri is right: l’idiot.

All sweet and expected, the film plays out this almost needless plot until good and right is restored. It does so with a soft comedy that takes the edge off Henri and lets him begin to replace the control of Constance’s Dad with encouragement of her dreams and talents. She achieves agency just as fate makes Paul grown up and Henri…well, you won’t be surprised about Henri.

Forgive the film its stylish amble along a well-travelled path. It cheered old Jack’s heart and blocked out the tutting from Mad Maud when I filled the spittoon.

And by spittoon, I mean her slippers.

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