12 Apr 2023

Review: Driving Madeleine

From At The Movies, 7:07 pm on 12 April 2023

The French film industry is a staple of most festivals around the world – including of course, their own Cannes Film Festival.

But the movies they make for their own audiences are often quite different from the challenging art films they enter in international competitions.

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Photo: Screenshot

They’re the sort of films you’ll find at the French Film Festival here. Films like Driving Madeleine.

They’re often light, funny, romantic, sentimental – and above all hugely popular. And it’s worth reminding the film snobs that it’s just as hard making a successful, feelgood story as it is summing up the meaning of life in an earnest art-film.

Driving Madeleine sees Charles, a hard-up taxi-driver, picking up 90-something Madeleine for a trip to the other side of Paris.

In France the two stars are the point. Dany Boone, who plays Charles, is one of the top comedy actors in the country after his smash hit Welcome to the Sticks.  Think of him as the French Adam Sandler.  

And Line Renaud has been a household name in France since the 1950s.

So that’s the setup. He’s grumpy and broke, she’s chatty, but on her way to a rest-home. She’s been told she can no longer live on her own. 

But since this is her last taxi ride, Madeleine wants to visit some places that are important to her.

She goes to the old neighbourhoods – all quite different now, of course. And along the way, she talks about her life. 

Being French, that means talking about love, particularly her first loves at the end of the War.   Charles sighs. This is going to be a long trip.

We, on the other hand, are delighted. Particularly those of us who don’t live in Paris. It is still, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful cities on earth. 

And, because of the deft plotting by writer-director Christian Carion, we’re going to see a lot of the city before Madeleine reaches her destination.

Carion started out in life as a scientist and an engineer before turning to film. This may explain how skilfully he manages to knit the elements of Driving Madeleine into one great story.

As the film progresses, Madeleine’s life story becomes increasingly unexpected, and against his will, Charles finds himself sucked into it. And, more to the point, engaging with the effervescent Madeleine.  

We know what’s happening – right from the start it was clear we were likely to fall in love with Charles and Madeleine – but we go with it anyway.

Occasionally with French Film Festival movies like this, there’s the feeling of “you had to be there”.  Not being French, not knowing the context, you can feel you’re missing some of the fine points.

But not in this case. In fact, non-Parisians may actually have an advantage.  

It’s like a long-awaited holiday, as you pass not just the obvious landmarks – the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe – but different, picturesque districts of Paris.

Even the title is a slight improvement on the original French one,  Une Belle Course – “a lovely ride”.  

It’s better than that, and as it heads towards the expected conclusion, we can only wish other countries put as much effort into satisfying audiences as Driving Madeleine does.

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