The Sweet Escape (2015)
The Sweet Escape (2015)
Director: Bruno Podalydès
Cast: Bruno Podalydès, Sandrine Kiberlain, Agnès Jaoui
Synopsis: Michel, a fifty year old man, graphic designer, decides to change the urban lifestyle and go on an adventure. Fascinated by airmail, he dreams at Jean Mermoz when he’s on scooter. One day, Michel sees a picture of a kayak.
It’s strange how the male mid-life crisis is so often seen as a topic for gentle – or not-so-gentle on occasion – humour by filmmakers. If middle-aged women undergoing a similar emotional upheaval were depicted in the same way the backlash would be hellish. Perhaps film-makers feel unable to treat the subject with any real gravity because males are generally portrayed as pro-active heroes rather than hostages to their emotions. Michel, played by Bruno Podalydes, the film’s writer and director, cuts a semi-comical figure. Greying, slightly overweight, and uncomfortably aware that he has reached the age when he becomes invisible to attractive younger women, he seeks escape – not so much from his loving wife, but from himself and the man he has become. Flight would be an obvious metaphor for escape, but Podalydes chooses an altogether more appropriate mode of transport: a kayak shares the streamlined shape of an airplane while offering a much more sedate means of escape.
Michel secretly buys a flat-pack kayak and constructs it on the roof of the apartment he shares with Rachelle (Sandrine Kiberlain). The meticulous – and protracted – plans he makes for his journey hint at his fear of leaving his old life behind – even if only for a week. When he finally does depart, he travels only four kilometres before mooring at a pretty riverbank restaurant run by the middle-aged but still attractive Laetitia (Agnes Jaoui), with the help of her pretty daughter, Mila (Vimala Pons). Although close to home, it’s a place where the sun always seems to shine and where a bunch of mildly eccentric characters lead an idyllic bohemian existence, and from which Michel finds it difficult to leave. The life you yearn for, it seems, is closer than you think…
There’s an inescapably Gallic feel to Podalydes’ film which is, of course, exactly as it should be. The beauty of the women is informed by the lives they’ve led, and they possess an appealingly earthy good humour (Laetitia uses a biscuit-crumb trail of post-it notes to lure Michel to her boudoir, with the last two notes, titled ‘stroke’ and ‘nibble’, placed on her nipples). Most of the male characters are busy and endearing, but largely ineffectual. The comedy in The Sweet Escape is gentle and occasionally whimsical, and the film as a whole is funny and sweet – although it’s never quite as charming as it might have been.
(Reviewed 23rd December 2015)