Sadsongs say so much in Quand j'Etais Chanteur, an unashamedlysentimental love story that features one of Gerard Depardieu's most fully-realisedand endearing performances in recent years.
Hismelancholy, smalltime singer has the same weary charm as Burt Lancaster's ageinghood in Atlantic City. Depardieu is well matched by Cecile de France andtogether they transcend the potentially corny material to create somethingsmall in scale but genuinely touching.
Thefilm should appeal to an older demographic with thepotential for crossover to incurable romantics of all ages suggesting a solidcommercial future.
Thehighly marketable soundtrack is a bonus. Promiscuous with his talent, GerardDepardieu is someone we have come to take for granted.
Here,he seems very much at ease with the character of Alain Moreau, a nightclubcrooner in Clermont-Ferrand much lower in the food chain than Charles Aznavourbut cut from the same cloth.
Depardieuinvests him with an easy, self-deprecating manner and an ineffable dignity.
Healso reveals a pleasant voice performing the old-fashioned songs that provide Moreauwith a living in local nightclubs, tea dances and personal appearances.
Onenight he meets Marion (de France). They wind up in bed.
A one-nightstand is easy but romance proves to be much more difficult as a wary Marionrefuses to let herself surrender to Alain's charm offensive and jokingly dubshim The Ladies Man.
Unlikesome of the other Cannes Competition titles (A Family Friend for instance), TheSinger makes you believe in the May-December spark between thetwo central characters.
Estateagent Marion is a single mother with a six-year-old boy and an unhappy past.
Shesports the cropped locks and gamin look of a young Jean Seberg but there is asteeliness that Cecile de France brings to the character.
Sheconveys Marion's reluctance to become involved and the sense of exasperationwhen she cannot keep her true feelings under control.
Whensomething does begin to develop we are convinced that it is more than anothermale fantasy come to life. This is an affair of the heart in which physicalattraction is secondary.
Thesetwo are soulmates in vulnerability.
MathieuAlmaric's Bruno is there to provide a romantic rival for Marion's affectionsbut the character is too underdeveloped to present a real challenge.
XavierGiannoli's screenplay has an unforced humour and a sense of compassion forthe characters.
Ittakes some mildly unexpected turns and resists any temptation to overplay thesituation.
WhenAlain develops throat problems there is a danger of veering towards tear-jerkingmelodrama that is mercifully avoided.
Eventhe ending is bittersweet and open to interpretation.
Set innightclubs filled with dry ice and the empty houses that are part of Marion'sjob, Quand j'Etais Chanteur is told in an unobtrusivefashion.
First-timedirector Giannoli is not interested in style over content.
Hemerely serves the story and attempts to make the situations seem as alive andbelievable as possible.
It isa very traditional approach to a film of pleasing, old-fashioned virtues.
France.2006. 112 mins