My Old Lady.
National release: November 21st Rating:(12A)Run time: 107 mins
Director:Israel Horovitz Writer(s):Israel Horovitz Cast:Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott Thomas, Dominique Pinon and Maggie Smith
A down and out New-York writer inherits an apartment in Paris from his estranged and recently deceased father. Believing he’s found the answer to pull him out of his financial rut, he arrives in the fair city with the intentions to sell up and move out. There’s only one stipulation, Mathilde Girard, and old lady who is already residing there – and by French real estate law, there’s nothing he can do about it. Playwright and screenwriter Israel Horovitz’s adapted play of the same name, encompasses all the aesthetic nuances synonymous with french cinema but is entirely rich with British and U.S sentiment. None of the all out liberal charm and play of the former but all of the neurotic and strained essence of the latter countries – treading the line between comedy and drama . The premise alone is centered around the almost absurd, but very real, law also referred to as ‘Viager’; serving to provide an enjoyable, if a little slow, vehicle through it a story of love, deceit and bitter sorrow, 92-year-old Mathilde’s history is more entwined with Mathias’ than he’d care to know.
Together they are the odd couple, living under one roof and for the most part it’s engaging to see them riff off each other. Mathias even goes as far as to investigate Mathilde’s health, trying to ascertain just how long he may have to wait until she croaks it. Equally humorous Mathilde divulges that not only has he inherited a house that he can not lawfully occupy – he has also inherited the clause in which he is bound to pay a monthly fee to her, in lieu of a lump sum payment. Essentially Mathias has inherited nothing more than debt and a landlord.
At first it appears to be an allegory about an ageing, uncompromising British establishment versus an ageing, unwavering, unapologetic American one. If it is, then it’s soon something else entirely. It’s funny, a black comedy that befits rambling, character-actor like Kline and compliments the effortlessly satirical undertones that Smith is so good at providing. When the third character, Mathilde’s confrontational suspicious daughter Chloe (Scott-Thomas) joins the fray all hell breaks loose. Screaming matches, scandalous revelations and heart-breaking affirmations are brought to head for all three residents.
Technically this is a very good film, and impressive debut. Horovitz isn’t really a novice though when it comes to writing well-rounded and complex characters, but he is when it comes to directing them on-screen and even he’s done it better than most. At the heart of it My Old Lady is a beautifully character study of people and the devastating lingering effects that the dead leave behind. Mathias is deeply problematic, he’s rude, passive aggressive and selfish. Similarly Chloe is just as flawed, broken a little perhaps, much of her is mirrored in Mathias which is why they can’t stand each other for the majority of the film. Then there’s Mathilde – with her harmless aged visage, now too tired to take either of them on – is revealed to have a dark secret detrimental the lives of all involved.
As Horovitz’s debut film does feel a little restrictive at times, this could be because it was an international stage success – and he is first and foremost a playwright. It still serves the premise overall, but we’re a little removed from the characters at times when they disappear into rooms and down corridors, or wait for the other to deliver his or her weighty line whilst the other stomps dramatically out of the room, or simply waits for their turn to speak. Overall it’s a poignant and funny character study with three acting strongholds in Kline, Scott-Thomas and Smith.