The Grocer's Son

The Grocer's Son


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Growing up in the countryside can be hard to do. It may look charming to outsiders, but having all that physical space to move around in goes hand in hand with a much more confined social environment.

Unwilling to deal with his father's frustrations, his mother's stubbornness and the seemingly perfect life led by his brother, Antoine (Nicolas Cazalé) has moved to the city, where he lives in a squalid apartment and works in a tedious job, but where he enjoys the company of good friends and a beautiful neighbour (Clotilde Hesme). However, when his father's health takes a turn for the worse, Antoine is persuaded to return to his native village to work his grocery rounds. The neighbour, Claire, who needs peace and quiet to study for her correspondence course, goes with him.

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Whilst Antoine may think that Claire's presence will distract him from his family situation, he is, in fact, taking more problems with him. Displaying the same immaturity, selfishness and directionlessness that have exacerbated his family problems, he has never told her how he feels about her, but he seeks to control her life nonetheless, continually expecting her to provide him with emotional support. Fresh out of an unhappy marriage, she is anxiously pursuing real independence, and this is the last thing she needs.

Meanwhile, unnoticed by Antoine, his brother is dealing with the fact that his own marriage has been a failure. Their father is frantic to keep his business going, with poverty a very real threat, and his mother is patiently trying to keep the family together.

This central drama has lots of interesting potential but never quite develops as effectively as it might. Instead, we spend what feels like hours traipsing round the countryside in the grocery van. The comic potential of elderly people buying vegetables soon runs dry, and though there are touching scenes of Antoine's interactions with a widowed farmer, we don't really get to know many of the characters along his route.

Although the photography is pretty, it isn't terribly imaginative, and the surrounding hills soon start to feel suffocating rather than romantic. The Grocer's Son is just too good at portraying the dismal side of country life to then be able to turn around and romance us with postcard images and wistful sighs. Its one properly comic character, Lucienne (Liliane Rovère), is just a little too over the top for the rest of the production, so that overall the narrative feels incoherent.

Where it should be gripping viewers with its intriguing character-based drama, The Grocer's Son relies too heavily on a charm that doesn't work. It's as if it has tried to copy the formula for successful rurally-located French films without having a clear voice of its own. As such, whilst it certainly has merit, it lacks the substance to justify its length, and, like Antoine, it lacks direction.

Reviewed on: 21 Feb 2009
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The Grocer's Son packshot
A man finds himself revisiting his past after he has to take on the job of running his father's grocery van.
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Director: Eric Guirado

Writer: Eric Guirado, Florence Vignon

Starring: Nicolas Cazalé, Clotilde Hesme, Jeanne Goupil, Daniel Duval, Stéphan Guérin-Tillié, Liliane Rovère, Paul Crauchet, Chad Chenouga, Benoît Giros, Ludmila Ruoso

Year: 2007

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: France


CFF 2008
Glasgow 2009

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