Keswick Film Club - Reviews - The Grocer's Son

Reviews - The Grocer's Son

The Grocer's Son

Reviewed By John Stakes

The Grocer's Son
The Grocer's Son
A surprise hit in its own country in 2008, French film-maker Eric Guirado’s “The Grocer’s Son” was shown to a very receptive near capacity audience last Sunday. Why did the French and Keswick people love this film so much?

There was little by way of cool, stylish detachment normally associated with French films although lead character Antoine, particularly in the early stages of the film, came across as a somewhat surly, dismissive and directionless fellow as he flitted between several jobs as a Paris waiter and whom perhaps a French audience would feel able to understand and relate to. And his relationship with would-be mature student Claire was certainly detached as she had her own flat and the two had never slept together.

However, with his girlfriend in tow, Antoine returns to the Provence countryside he’d left behind ten years earlier when his father has a heart attack and is forced to call for help in running his small village grocery shop and mobile van. At first Antoine finds it difficult to relate to the equally surly and prickly locals particularly those he meets when taking the van into the foothills on his rounds. His relations with his own family are also far from pleasant as his father considers him to be a wastrel, and his depressive brother François and he were never close. Family tensions surface at mealtimes, contrasting with the serenity of the peaceful Provence hillsides (bathed in pastel greens and browns, but not looking quite as inviting as this reviewer was expecting!) On top of all this Claire finds out that Antoine has thrown away her application to a Spanish College and decided not to tell her so she packs her bags and returns to Paris….and François attempts suicide.

All of this could have been presented as a gritty struggle for self identity played out against a background of the kind of rural deprivation that is a feature of much French agrarian life. And in Guirado we had a director who trained in documentary filmmaking so all the ingredients were in place for a year in Provence as seen through the eyes of a French Ken Loach. However Guirado settled for a less demanding, rather whimsical, lighter hearted approach laced with flashes of gentle humour. The dialogue was economical but astute and much was conveyed with what appeared to be minimal effort.

Antoine, with the help of his girlfriend, learns to accept and exploit the idiosyncrasies of the locals and to find shape and purpose to his life. He saves François from drowning and begins to forge a new life for himself when his father decides he will have to sell up or pass on the business. Even Claire returns when Antoine sends her a gift, and, as the grocery van driven by Claire winds its way around the steeply twisting lanes at sunset, we can feel that Antoine’s future is mapping itself out.

This was in many ways a slight, somewhat sentimental film. But the sentimentality was not cloying, and the performances, particularly from the locals, were refreshingly natural. The film was imbued with sufficient realism to maintain interest and the humour sprang naturally from the surroundings. Pure enjoyment.

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