The House by the Sea (3 stars)

The House by the Sea

Melancholic and heartfelt yet flawed family drama from French director Robert Guédiguian

The past acts like an unruly guest at a family gathering in The House by the Sea (La Villa). Robert Guédiguian's melancholic drama is marked by a wistful longing for earlier, better days and a reluctant, hard-won acknowledgement of the need to move on. Working with many of his regular actors, Guédiguian creates an engaging if mournful film filled with heartfelt moments but also prone to stumble in some crassly handled key flashbacks.

When her father suffers a stroke, actress Angèle (Ariane Ascaride) returns to the family home at a small fishing village on the Mediterranean coast. She is met by her brothers: the dutiful, self-effacing Armand (Gérard Meylan) and the sardonic, world-weary Joseph (Jean-Pierre Darroussin).

There is something of Tolstoy's unhappy family here as we learn of tragic deaths, recriminations and old wounds that still cause pain. Personal regrets assume a wider resonance in a community that has started to feel like a ghost town. Residents have sold up for the lucrative holiday home market, restaurants now have a season and a hefty price and in the mountains 'the old pathways are closing up'.

Eventually, the central trio are confronted with reasons to look to the future – from a relationship on the rocks, to the possibility of a new romance. It is a thoughtful film with a quiet charm thanks to the fond chemistry between the siblings; one of the more effective flashbacks is a clip from Guédiguian's 1986 film Ki Lo Sa? featuring exactly the same cast in playful, holiday mode.

In the final third, Guédiguian introduces the story of three migrant children, as the concerns of the modern world intrude on a family stuck in the past. It is an element full of potential but arrives too late to make the impact it might have.

Limited release from Fri 11 Jan.

House by the Sea

  • 3 stars
  • 2017
  • France
  • 1h 47min
  • Directed by: Robert Guédiguian
  • Cast: Ariane Ascaride, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Gérard Meylan

Angèle (Ascaride) returns to her family home on the Mediterranean coast to look after her ailing father, where she meets her brothers Armand (Meylan) and Joseph (Darroussin). Melancholy and mournful family drama with lots of heartfelt moments but a clumsy structure.