Dir/Scr: Xavier Giannoli. France. 2006. 112 mins

Sad songs say so much in The Singer, an unashamedly sentimental love story that features one of Gerard Depardieu's most fully realised and endearing performances in recent years. His melancholy, smalltime singer has the same weary charm as Burt Lancaster's aging hood in Atlantic City.

Depardieu is well matched by Cecile de France and together they transcend the potentially corny material to create something small in scale but genuinely touching. The Singer should appeal to an older demographic with the potential for cross-over to incurable romantics of all ages suggesting a solid commercial future. The highly marketable soundtrack is a bonus.

Promiscuous with his talent, Gerard Depardieu is someone we have come to take for granted. Here, he seems very much at ease with the character of Alain Moreau, a nightclub crooner in Clermont-Ferrand much lower in the food chain than Charles Aznavour but cut from the same cloth. Depardieu invests him with an easy, self-deprecating manner and an ineffable dignity. He also reveals a pleasant voice performing the old-fashioned songs that provide Moreau with a living in local nightclubs, tea dances and personal appearances. One night he meets Marion (de France). They wind up in bed. A one-night stand is easy but romance proves to be much more difficult as a wary Marion refuses to let herself surrender to Alain's charm offensive and jokingly dubs him The Ladies Man.

Unlike some of the other Cannes Competition titles (A Family Friend for instance), The Singer makes you believe in the May-December spark between the two central characters. Estate agent Marion is a single mother with a six year-old boy and an unhappy past. She sports the cropped locks and gamin look of a young Jean Seberg but there is a steeliness that Cecil de France brings to the character. She conveys Marion's reluctance to become involved and the sense of exasperation when she cannot keep her true feelings under control. When something does begin to develop we are convinced that it is more than another male fantasy come to life. This is an affair of the heart in which physical attraction is secondary. These two are soulmates in vulnerability.

Mathieu Almaric's Bruno is there to provide a romantic rival for Marion's affections but the character is too underdeveloped to present a real challenge. Xavier Giannoli's screenplay has an unforced humour and a sense of compassion for the characters. It takes some mildly unexpected turns and resists any temptation to overplay the situation. When Alain develops throat problems there is a danger of veering towards tearjerking melodrama that is mercifully avoided. Even the ending is bittersweet and open to interpretation.

Set in nightclubs filled with dry ice and the empty houses that are part of Marion's job, The Singer is told in an unobtrusive fashion. First time director Giannoli is not interested in style over content. He merely serves the story and attempts to make the situations seem as alive and believable as possible. It is a very traditional approach to a film of pleasing, old-fashioned virtues.

Production company/International sales

Edouard Weil
Pierre-Ange Le Pogam

Yorick Le Saux

Martine Girodano

Alexandre Desplat

Main cast
Gerard Depardieu
Cecil de France
Mathieu Almaric
Christine Citti
Patrick Pineau