Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Russell Crowe, Marion Cotillard, Albert Finney, Freddie Highmore

"Everything matures ... eventually!"

Is it safe to assume that "A Good Year" is a romantic comedy even though it stars The Gladiator himself, Russell Crowe and it is directed by Ridley Scott who gave us big action hits like Black Hawk Down, Black Rain and of course Gladiator?

Well let's see:
You got the romantic setting of French Provence with its rows of vineyards.
You have the female love interest with such a fancy name, Fanny Chenal.
You have a great soundtrack with its neat blend of vintage French songs along with English standards.
A story line that involves a very romantic beverage - red wine.
The leading man was charming in a brutish way. He lacks some social skills but it nevertheless makes his character somewhat interesting.
As for the comedy part well just watching Russell Crowe dressed in loose khaki cargo pants with a tucked out shirt trying hard to fit in a rural setting is funny in itself. Heh!

So yes I guess it is a romantic comedy, after all.

You can safely say this movie is like the male version of "Under the Tuscan Sun" except it is located in Provencal France instead of the Tuscany region in Italy. A film based on a novel by Peter Mayle, a British author who has written extensively about the French culture particularly life in Provence.

Max Skinner, a highly ambitious and power driven investment broker in London learns about the death of his uncle. Uncle Henry (Albert Finney)didn't leave a will so Max being his only known relative, must put his uncle's affairs into order. It involves a decrepit chateau with its neglected vineyard. As Max spends some time in the Provence to renovate the chateau, he recalls fond childhood memories with his boisterous Uncle Henry. It makes him question his current lifestyle as he contemplates on what is really important in his no holidays, always money driven life.

The first 10 minutes of the movie is focused on Max's very hectic life in London as an investment broker. I thought his secretary Gemma was especially crucial in these scenes. She was perky and alert with her English spoken with a slight Indian accent. She was his lifeline and she was hilarious. Then Max is transported to a very different scenery as he embarks on a soul searching journey. He recollects scenes from his fancy free summery childhood. Times he spent in the chateau with his Uncle Henry reading books, swimming in the pool, tasting wine, playing chess and roaming in the vineyard. The director slices the film with brief flashback scenes of Max as a boy. Done in a non intrusive way, the flow of the film is steady with scenes of a fanciful innocent past as well as current scenes with a regretful Max a bit guilty for not keeping in touch with his uncle. Max's emotions fluctuates as he tries to bury the past and to move on with his busy life in London. But in the process, he slowly rediscovers himself, learns to love his new surroundings and finds love in the process.

I loved the cinematic visual of the French countryside with the rows of vines, the chateau as well as the post card image of the town square with its little bistros. Very Gallic atmosphere of life in a little French town still devoid of skyscrapers and modern technology but very charming in every way. The neat trick of adding some vintage French songs by such artists as Johnny Halliday and Jean Sablon along with English songs from the past with catchy tunes was in my opinion the best part of the film. I'm a sucker for French songs even though I am currently not as fluent in the language as I was during my childhood. It still brought back nostalgic times of my now very distant Francophone past.

Russell Crowe as a romantic lead was believable and it is reassuring to see he is capable of portraying characters with some emotional attachments instead of a character who annihilates his protagonists.
I've always loved the boisterous Albert Finney who I still remember as singing Daddy Warbucks in the film version of the musical Annie. Marion Cotillard who isn't known in Hollywood is a rising star in French cinema after roles in movies like "Un Long Dimanche de Fiancailles" ("A Very Long Engagement") and "Cavalcade" She is currently drawing rave reviews for her portrayal of Edith Piaf in the movie "La Mome" (The Kid). "La Vie en Rose" is the US title of the biopic of this diminutive singer with a haunting voice who was such a hit among the French troops who fought in WW2. I wonder if I'll ever get a chance to see this Edith Piaf biopic. Wishful thinking I suppose.

So yes I liked the movie mostly for its French connection. It makes me want to ransack the nearest book store for Peter Mayle's books about Provence. It is well directed with a refreshing storyline. A nice personification about self discovery as well as learning to accept the nuances of the choices one makes in life. Oh watch out for the French version of the song "An itsy bitsy polka dot bikini" as the end credits roll by. It was so cute.

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