Oh, now this is gorgeous. Young Steve brought it in. He can talk again these days and rasped out the excellence of this comic-Gallic insight into one man’s journey through his fiftieth year. Cos 50 is the line, yo know. I felt potentially sexy up to that point, then, boom, young women started confiding in me with an air of safety and respect. No lingering undertone of erotic potential, oh no. It was just old Jack, his wife, his departed kids, and the gradual hunt for a mission to make it all worthwhile. I wrote a will and can still see the solicitor’s face: you can die now. So I went to buy a shirt, what with wanting something to live for, and searched and failed to find a thing to make me me, to make me real, and to make me of now. So, hurrah for the terrific Bruno Podalydès who wrote, directed and starred in this story: one man’s rush for The Sweet Escape, or, in the original French, Comme un Avion, or in the should-have-been English, soaring through middle age’s angst, Like an Airplane.
Podalydès plays Michel. A graphic artist, he has an old-love but happy and bemused relationship with Sandrine Kiberlain as Rachelle. Married, kids gone, still fit, still attractive in all, disturbing, honesty. It’s probably the sheer volume of smoking going on that keeps the flab off. He pursues his ambitions in secret, before she calls him on his obvious planning, and he reveals his hand. In scenes of comic silliness, he constructs a kayak and gathers an amateur’s ragbag of stuff from the outdoor stores. Rachelle is lovely and supportive; Bruno is persistently, blindingly odd in his dream to disappear up a river to the sea in a quality-wood kayak, it’s shell comme un avion…
The couple head off on departure day, the affection between them as tangible as the age of their relationship. Bruno is inept, but she helps. Their first separation, him tentatively rowing, her on shore, is tweaked with a ‘we forgot to kiss’ loveliness soon repaired as he gets stuck on a branch ten minutes later and needs her to drag him off it. And then, throwing off the weight of tired identity and ugly shift into ‘old’ and the ‘safe-zone’, Michel paddles away.
And that’s just the beginning of the loveliness. A mightily sympathetic film to male madness, pitting man against nature, it up-ends expectations almost immediately by taking him to the edges of a country restaurant run by the gloriously empathetic Agnès Jaoui as Letitia. A widow, she observes Michel’s silliness and crisis, and gifts the film a mother-earth quality that understands rather than judges the boy-man who turns up on the banks of her land. Michel has to be dragged in by a young woman first, of course, for such is the pain, and Vimala Pons is Mila, reachable, unreachable, pained, fantasy-friendly and also, agonisingly, just friendly. Michel shows off about his adventure, leaves, passes out, and gets brought back. The women and their world are the panacea he needs.
And then things happen. Sexy things. Lying things. Silly things with a price a-coming (geo-tags will bother you throughout). And the film takes flight.
Old Jack here adored The Sweet Escape. It is a lovely thing to watch a movie without heavy dramatics or punishments amidst the awfulness of midlife. Much like I Got Life! / Aurore (2017), which foregrounds a similar experience for Jaoui, this is the gentle craziness of ordinary people, their challenges made palatable by quality laughs (there’s a head-gripping scene that had me giggling, and an actorly in-joke that brought a real smile) and truth.
When we got to the end, interpersonal crimes balanced and adventures done, I was smiling and young Steve was weeping. Men, both, we welcomed its message and appreciated the warmth of its comic affections.
Here’s to sexy post-its, I say. Really. Watch the film, older gentlemen, it is meant for us. And the women we love.