This underrated drama explores, in a delicate balance of heaviness and light-heartedness, the emotional legacies which are parents often leave us. Some legacies are harder to come to terms with than others.
The character Mathias, played by Kevin Kline, inherits property from his estranged father. The downside is it’s in Paris and he lives in America. Furthermore, when he arrives he discovers that it’s inhabited by a lady who is legally entitled under French lay to live there until she pops her clogs. She is 92 and in excellent health. Under the terms of the viager, he will have to pay the rent until she dies.
As if there is no end to his bad news, he soon discovers that she was his father’s mistress. At times, discussions with her become very fraught as from a child’s perspective, she was the woman who stole his dad’s affections from his mother and from him. Such was his mother’s misery, that she kills herself in a violent act of self-destruction which he witnesses, and which scars him for life. From that time onwards, it seemed that everything he touched turned to dust – a broken marriage and a lifelong battle with alcohol. He describes himself as having been “born with a silver knife in my back”!
Matthias bemoans his lot in life to the old lady whom he cannot get rid of to which she retorts – “you have life left – there is no greater wealth!” The title of this film is fitting because there is another old lady – his mother – whose suicide casts the die for a life of inner turmoil and unresolved feelings of rejection and low self -esteem.
Mathias does experience resolution by the end of the film. An unlikely relationship begins to blossom an forms the motivation he desperately needs to overcome the demons of his past.
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