There is an innate and deliberate feel of time moving slowly in 'The Grocer’s Son'.
There is an innate and deliberate feel of time moving slowly in The Grocer’s Son. Director, Eric Guirado first wrote the screenplay for his film in 2000. He has devoted much of his attention to the countryside of Provence, the gentle hills, the whisper- quiet villages with their geranium- potted windows and narrow streets. Although, Guirado says he deliberately tried to make the film not look ‘too beautiful’. Yet it is the countryside that draws us in and the sense of life taking its time in the small villages is integral to the self - revelation of Antoine, the grocer’s son.
Nicholas Cazale gives a fine performance as Antoine, who reluctantly finds himself back in Provence after a 10 year absence whilst his father, played by Daniel Duval, also reluctantly, convalesces from a heart attack. The performances are all very good; the difficulty for much of the film is the disagreeable and rather prosaic main characters, and the fact that not a great deal is made known to us. The breakdown in Antoine and his father’s relationship is never explained. Nor is the love between Antoine and his neighbour, Claire, played by Clothilde Hesme, fully realized. She is the light to Antoine’s dark, yet we don’t ever really know much about her, other than she is a struggling student with a failed marriage behind her.
She does however, provide a contrast to the rather surly character of Antoine – although we do have glimpses of his sweeter nature when he borrows money from his long-suffering mother (Jeanne Goupil) for Claire’s proposed study in Spain, and invites her to spend the summer in Provence. Through Claire we get to know Antoine’s brother, Francois, played by Stephan Guerin-Tillie, who is also troubled; his wife having left him two years before, yet he doesn’t talk about it with his family.
Where the film becomes really charming is in the portrait of the villagers. We meet these amusing and pragmatic characters when Antoine takes on the daily deliveries of the groceries; an eclectic mix of fresh goods, tinned peas, Spanish brandy and women’s clothing. His customers are wryly bemused or distinctly unimpressed by the grocer’s son who refuses to do things the way his father did. Here too, Guirado’s documentary background is evident, as he makes reference to the old ways of the travelling grocer competing with the supermache. ‘The travelling storekeepers’, says Guirado, ‘offer elderly people some kind of autonomy. It keeps them in contact with the world.’
Claire interrupts her daily study above the grocery store and travels with Antoine on his rounds to show him ‘how to sell’. It is then that we come to know the wonderful character Lucienne, superbly played by Liliane Rovere, who is at first mistrustful of Antoine, and Mr.Clements, a delightful Paul Crauchet, the retired shepherd who pays for his tinned peas with fresh eggs. They are both part of Antoine’s discovery of himself and there are some wonderful comic moments involving Lucienne and Antoine, as eventually he warms to her and the simple ways of the villagers.
In the end, it is Francois’ inability to cope with his wife not returning, that becomes the catalyst for reconciliation between Antoine and his father. As Antoine began to embrace life, I too began to embrace the charms of this film. I just wish it could have been sooner.
The Grocer’s Son
Director: Eric Guirado. France
Somerville Film Festival 2009