Film Review: "The Grocer's Son"

A good film never ever ages. And I've confirmed that once again. I am so excited to share what I discovered on Netflix tonight. It's this 2007 small French film that's brimming with charm that it can win anyone over by just one petulant glance of its leading character, Antoine, or by one disarming laughter of Claire, Antoine's friend who comes along with him as he spends the summer in his hometown to help his mother tend to their family grocery business while his father recuperates in the hospital after a heart attack. One could also be won over easily by the captivating and picturesque village used as a fitting backdrop to this film about a grown-up man rediscovering his roots, his life, his family, his true self in the town that he once left, abandoned and promised to never return.

"The Grocer's Son" is such a wonderful, feel-good film that would make one yearn to return to their hometown and experience once again the simple joys and simple pleasures that only the towns of our childhood could offer. In this film, Antoine had to rediscover this only after he had to go back to driving the old family van filled with grocery items from one hamlet to another and meeting the same old folks -- a bunch of quirky but oddly endearing villagers -- he met when he was growing up. He also had to fall in love for the first time to fully realize that for one man to be truly and honestly happy is for him to give a part of himself to something or to someone.

But there's more to the film than just Antoine's personal story. The film is also about a family coming to terms with the return of the prodigal son. The older brother is loving but contemptuous - and is keeping his ex-wife's demand for divorce after becoming pregnant by another man a secret from his family. The mother is forgiving but fearful that Antoine might decide to leave again. But despite all these side stories, the film consistently kept the focus on Antoine and his personal journey. There are so many occasions in the film when the simmering family conflict could have easily been mined for dramatic effect but the director wisely staged each scene with minimal confrontation. The final meeting between Antoine and his father is one fine example of how the filmmaker's restraint succeeded in making what could have been a loud, tense encounter into a quiet conversation that never involved a hug, a tearful reconciliation or a moving score. It was just a father finally talking to his son and a son finally listening to his father. Powerful!

I first saw Nicolas Cazale, the actor who played Antoine, in the film "Three Dancing Slaves" a couple of years ago and the pained expression on his face playing Mark in that film has stuck with me. Tonight, his performance as Antoine is something I will always remember him by. He has only done a few films. I hope to see all of them.

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars


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