About ten days ago we were walking down the Champs-Élysées in Paris and saw that this film was showing in one of the theatres there. We had remembered seeing the trailer for the film, but the film had never come near us. Back at the apartment I found that the film had been released in the U.S. in September and was available on Amazon Instant Video.
Kevin Kline plays Mathias from New York. He travels to Paris to sell an apartment he has inherited from his father. To say that Mathias did not have a good relationship with his father would be an understatement. However, once he finds the valuable apartment in the Marais section of the city, he discovers that an elderly woman named Mathilde (Maggie Smith from Downton Abbey) living there with her daughter Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas, who received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for The English Patient)
Mathias learns that he can’t sell the property, even though he has inherited it from his father due to something in France called a viager. Mathias will not get possession of the apartment until Mathilde, who is 92, dies. In addition to that, he owes her a monthly payment of 2,400 Euros per month! Mathias is basically broke and owes a lot of people money. He doesn’t have any friends. He was looking at the sale of the apartment as giving himself a fresh start in life. Instead, he sees this as one final shot from his father.
Since he has nowhere else to go, Mathilde allows him to stay in the apartment for the 2,400 monthly fee, which he gets by secretly selling furniture from the apartment and asking a potential buyer for an advance payment.
Mathias finds out that Mathilde has lived in the apartment for many years. The film reveals family secrets and quickly turns much more serious than we had expected as it addresses themes of alcoholism, marital affairs and suicide.
The film is the directorial debut of respected playwright Israel Horovitz. It features a strong cast who deliver excellent performances (especially Kline), and some beautiful scenes of Paris, especially along the Seine River. The soundtrack features the song “Peace Like a River” performed by Paul Simon.
The film deals with serious issues and the characters dealing with pain in their lives. Despite that, none of the characters turn to God to help them with their pain. Overall, the film is morally bankrupt and should be used to discuss ethical questions.