At age 94, Portuguese director Del Oliviera has more than a few tricks up his sleeve. This is a gentle French drama about a famous stage actor, Gilbert (Piccoli), who after a performance is informed that his wife, daughter and son-in-law have been killed in an accident. But life returns to normal as he and his housekeeper (Gourdon) raise his grandson (Koeltgen). His agent (Chappey) keeps trying to find him new work, such as in a TV crime series, but Gilbert doesn’t want any of this sex and violence nonsense. Instead he chooses to make a movie with an American director (Malkovich). A decision that brings his emotions to the surface.
The simplicity of the premise belies De Oliveira’s skills as a director. He shoots the film obliquely, often through windows or around corners, with much of the action off screen. But far from being irritating, this gives the film an intriguing insight, building the rhythms of life into the story. Meanwhile, the actors are fascinating, often shot in reaction, always giving glimpses of deeply hidden thoughts and feelings. Parts of the film feels meandering; some shots go on and on, while the stage and film scenes (tellingly from Exit the King, The Tempest and Ulysses) are meaningful but much too long. That said, the film itself is brisk and short. A glimpse at buried grief and inner struggle that actually works wonderfully.