By Emma Chen
Warning: this article contains spoilers and discusses domestic violence.
Aberdeen recently played host to the 31st edition of the French Film Festival, kicking off the event with Driving Madeleine by director Christian Carion, who, in the brief speech he gave before the screening described the film as “not just a French story, a human story”.
So, meet ever-grumpy Charles (played by Dany Boon), a taxi driver whose life is hanging by a thread—personally and professionally. Then enters Madeleine (Line Renaud), an elderly lady who needs a ride to a care home, but not before having passed through the most important Parisian places of her life.
Now, this is ain’t my first rodeo. Show me two strangers in a car, and I'll show you a life-changing journey (*cough* The Intouchables *cough* Green Book). From the moment Madeleine stepped into the taxi and said she was going to an elderly centre, I knew she was going to die (spoiler: she does) after having helped Charles improve his life.
But what I didn't expect was the crudeness of some scenes. Madeleine's tour around Paris turned into a dive into her past, complete with one too many dramatic twists, including a history of domestic abuse. Cue the trigger warning I put at the beginning of the article—more thoughtful than the film producers, apparently. Suddenly, I found myself in the violence of Madeleine’s marriage, culminating in her revenge plan, which involves burning her husband’s genitalia with a blowtorch—a moment that made me question if I'd accidentally walked into a Tarantino film. Despite being caught off guard, I couldn't help but appreciate the rawness of the scenes. Life doesn't give you a warning before throwing violence your way, right?
Another pleasant surprise was Boon’s acting. I’ve seen his comedic prowess in the past, but this time, he traded in the laughs for a character steeped in disillusionment. The way he conveyed the frustration and weariness of a man whose life is unravelling was unexpected. It's like finding out your class clown aced the serious monologue in the school play—you didn't know they had it in them, but here we are.
Contrasting Boon, Renaud embodies Madeleine with a certain grace, capturing the essence of a life well-lived. However, while delicate, her portrayal came across as one-dimensional at times. Given the intense life experiences her character had, I found myself yearning for a deeper dive into the nuances of Madeleine's emotions.
Even though I saw it coming from a mile away, the last ten minutes had me sobbing like a baby. Carion knew what he was doing, playing us like a fiddle with a soapy colour palette in Madeleine's flashbacks and a soundtrack featuring Etta James' 'At Last.’ Was it a cheap shot? Maybe. But, hey, who doesn't tear up watching videos of old people?
Driving Madeleine has a few questionable plot choices, but it sure knows how to pull at those heartstrings. So, if you’re a fan of melodrama, hop into Charles' taxi and let the nostalgia hit you like a ton of bricks—or burn you like a blowtorch, I guess.