Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. United Kingdom/France/USA, 2014. BBC Films, Cohen Media Group, Deux Chevaux Films, FullDawa Films, Krasnoff / Foster Entertainment, Le Premier Productions, Specialty Films. Screenplay by Israel Horovitz, based on his play. Cinematography by Michel Amathieu. Produced by David-Christophe Barrot, Nitsa Benchetrit, Gary Foster, Rachael Horovitz. Music by Mark Orton. Production Design by Pierre-Francois Limbosch. Costume Design by Jacqueline Bouchard. Film Editing by Stephanie Ahn, Jacob Craycroft.
Nearing sixty, with three ex-wives under his belt and not a dollar to his name, Kevin Kline arrives in Paris looking forward to the one thing that could possibly give him a chance at a future: his father left him no money in his will, turning his sizable fortune over to charity, but gave his son a fancy apartment in a very fashionable neighbourhood in the City of Lights. What Kline has actually inherited is a beautiful apartment with a very comfortable tenant, a 92 year-old woman (Maggie Smith) who informs Kline that his father actually bought the place under an “en viager” agreement, an archaic French real estate deal where the buyer gets the place for a small sum but pays the seller a monthly fee until they die, and only then does the new owner take possession. The news is horror to a man who can barely pay for lunch, and things do not improve when he meets Smith’s combative daughter (Kristin Scott Thomas) who is determined to get the place back under her own family name. Kline’s best option is to meet with a greedy hotel developer who wants the apartment complex for his next business, but while trying to arrange this deal he learns secrets of the past that connect with his landlady and unlock his own feelings of anger and frustration about his father. Although advertised as a comedy, the sort of thing Miramax would have foisted upon us as a Christmas season Oscar offering, the film is actually a very dark exploration of family dysfunction in which Kline spends much of his time drinking wine straight from the bottle and fighting with everyone around him. The actor is in fine form in the lead and enjoys great volleying with Smith, but he and his former Life As A House scene partner Scott Thomas have little sexual chemistry that does nothing for a conclusion that comes out of nowhere. Writer-director Israel Horovitz, adapting his own play to the screen, creates some very high stakes that he doesn’t resolve properly in the finale, switching illogically to a feel-good ending that the rest of the movie hasn’t earned.