Renowned actors feature in a work first written for stage, and now for film by acclaimed play and screenwriter Israel Horovitz as he makes his screenwriting debut aged 75 with his drama My Old Lady.
Maggie Smith as Mathilde Girard, Kevin Kline as Mathias Gold and Kristin Scott-Thomas as Chloé Girard prove that he well understands the reflective nature of ageing.
There is a point we all reach in life when have to come to terms with who we are, where we have been and where we are going. This one of a kind tale begins with just a little levity – enough to charm and draw us in.
Mathias Gold has arrived in a picturesque part of Paris, the lovely Marais with its outstanding buildings of historic and architectural importance as well as cobblestone streets, hidden courtyards, seductive galleries and Boston ivy laden boulangeries, one you will want to experience yourself.
At his delightful destination Mathias Gold gets to share a great deal of thought provoking conversation, take on board an astonishing deal of information about aging and his life to date as well as become involved in much soul searching.
Now showing at Palace Cinemas in Australia, My Old Lady does make for an intriguing story, one with a perfect ending.
As we make haste slowly through this story of manners, lies and deceptions we connect with an awful and hurtful truth, uncover and lay bare a domestic drama of great depth.
Maggie Smith’s role relies on her abilities to not appear hateful, while we are busy finding out that in fact her character’s back-story is pretty terrible.
As always Maggie rises completely to the challenge and her scenes on screen with Kevin Kline are compelling viewing.
The ending may seem perhaps a little trite to some, however on reflection themselves, they may just come to terms with the wisdom of a deceased protagonist Mr Gold, who probably hoped events would turn out well. It becomes evident he wanted to rest easily in his grave.
Near the end of his life Mr Gold whom we never meet, realised he needed to make amends for the sins and realities of what had been his very selfish life.
He also knew he would be able to totally trust Mathilde Girard, to help put things right for his very unhappy 50 odd, sometimes very despicable unhappy and emotionally damaged son Mathias.
The whole premise of this being the successful stage play it has been, and now an attractive movie, is to date Mathias Gold’s life has been based on an illusion.
The film is an exposé about how the facts we can believe about the realities of our life’s journey, can change dramatically from when we are child to when we are an adult.
The thrice-divorced Mathias arrives in Paris pinning his hopes on selling an apartment he has just found out his father owned. He is also amazed he left it to him in his will. His curiosity engaged, he sells off his property in New York to pay his copious debts, the result of living a very louche lifestyle, and to pay the cost of the journey where he expects to make a killing.
He arrives in Paris virtually penniless. What he hasn’t realised is because he couldn’t speak French to the lawyer who informed him about the apartment, the property is not what it seems.
It turns out it had been purchased decades ago by his father although in an entirely different way to what he’s used to back home; as part of a real estate tradition in French society – ‘un viager’, meaning lifetime.
His father had put in place an arrangement with certain conditions. The seller of a property receives a reasonable sum a % of market value up front, the catch being that for the rest of their natural life they get to stay in the house and receive a monthly stipend payable by the buyer to the seller until they die.
As we learn to appreciate this arrangement definitely has both pluses and minuses.
It’s a game of destiny: if the seller dies quickly then it’s your destiny to replace them. If not, then it’s your destiny to pay to help them live.
As Mathias finds out the monthly money to Mathilde is payable on time and if he doesn’t fulfill the terms and conditions of his father’s arrangements, in law the sale will be null and void and she will regain full ownership.
Learning his predicament, she can see he is shocked. The kindly Mathilde offers him a room while he sorts out what to do with his life and the house.
His behaviour however is shameless, especially when he finds he only has a week to go before the first payment is due and not a bean in his pocket. He has to get ‘creative’ right away.
She also wants to incredulously in his eyes, charge him rent to stay in the house for the week. So he repays her by selling off some of her possessions he finds upstairs in a storage room, sneaking them out of the house to an antiques dealer down the road so he can make some quick cash. What a cad!
As the story unfolds we find his father has made the arrangement to give Madame Girard security for life.
At first Mathias doesn’t think to question this fact, spending valuable time and energy trying to work out how he can beat the system and Madame Girard by selling the property out from under her.
He makes the acquaintance of a local real estate agent, trying to find out how much the property is worth in today’s market. He’s stunned when he discovers the three-storey apartment also has a glorious garden attached to it, which means it is completely worth a fortune.
You can literally see the dollar signs flashing before his eyes.
Subtlety is not something Mathilde Gold appreciates because it doesn’t interest her as she tells him, which is entirely understandable when you are 92.
As they proceed politely he gradually realises that by using her wit and wisdom in a good way (unlike his own method of working) Mathilde has also made some very clever arrangements so she can continue to keep her quality of life as she ages and costs rise.
She’s living what seems to be a very rich life to him but on a meagre budget.
He is quietly bemused by uncovering the real facts and we believe she is more than accommodating at his extremely bad behaviour. However we also begin to slowly understand there’s certainly much more going on than meets the eye.
She is also providing for her daughter as he finds out when bursting unexpectedly in on her in the only bathroom in the house, the French not being as fussy about the ‘toilette’ as the rest of the western world.
Outraged, her daughter insists Mathias leaves her mother’s house, but he’s more than a match for both her fury and feisty behaviour.
These two more than middle-aged adults have had lives with great complex layers that need to be peeled back, especially if they are to both get to the truth, heal their considerable wounds and go forward.
Mathias, with at first not good intentions, begins following Chloé about.
He wants to dig up some dirt and get a handle on why at her age (similar to his own) she’s still living at home with her mother so he can emotionally blackmail them both
Kevin Kline is masterly in this role.
He is literally a joy to watch and proves he is an excellent dramatic actor, one far removed from his comedic Fish called Wanda days when we all marvelled at him sniffing his armpits.
He is perfectly cast at this stage of his life and the role fits him like a glove.
The story as it unravels explains why Mathias has been a failure in his life on so many fronts.
“I was born with a silver knife in my back,” Mathias tells Chloé about his childhood”. It becomes obvious it has been plunged in very deeply. And that chip on his shoulder he’s carrying around is very burdensome.
Mathias also finds out his father was certainly not what he always thought him to be and importantly why.
As the story further unravels he finds out why he has always felt so alone, despite being constantly surrounded by people.
After the anger with Chloé settles it becomes plain they share a great deal in common and even more amazingly, were childhood playmates. This knowledge requires him to dig deeper.
Chloe’s anger is justified as she now also finds out about why she’s always been so sad and why her life and journey has been so disappointing.
Kiristin Scott-Thomas is always excellent, and she is in this too.
The three main characters are quite wonderful and the small supporting cast, captivate too.
There’s one lovely moment Chloé has with Mathias near the end of the movie that certainly captured my attention.
It is but a glance, a gentle look she gives him having come upon him in the garden where he’s discovered his father’s ashes lie; it’s full of compassion and caring but not pity.
They share this moment together and you cannot help but feel pleased they have found each other.
The script has a few flaws you can forgive, because as played by these consummate actors, this is not over sentimental in any way. They are all so very engaging.
By the end you do gain the sense they have found their place to be.
For Chloé and Mathais that means to go forward they need to forgive their parents for being human.
Go along to see it with an open mind and fill in the blanks yourself.
It was certainly not what I imagined it would be judging by the trailer, and as well as being pleasantly surprised, I found myself enjoying their dramatic dilemmas.
Hope that’s not too inappropriate?
Watch the Trailer
PS. Stay until the end of the credits…
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle.