The Grocer’s Son (Le Fils de l'Epicier)
The fatted calf is swapped for a mobile grocer’s van in documentarian Eric Guirado’s likeably breezy fictional debut, a take on the prodigal son fable. When his father becomes sick, Paris-based waiter Antoine (Nicolas Cazalé) agrees to return to the rural area he grew up in and drive the family grocery cart from hamlet to hamlet, delivering to the diminishing number of elderly inhabitants. He invites his neighbour, friend and long time secret crush Claire (Clothilde Hesme) to come along on the premise that the peace and quiet will be good for her life-changing studies. As the summer unfolds Antoine is slowly transformed from curmudgeon and begrudging deliveryman to someone crucial to the disparate community. Yet his relationship with Claire, his overbearing father and his emotionally distant brother threaten to undo his good deeds.
Guirado’s upbeat coming of age drama has a lot to recommend it. Antoine’s journey from self-centred urbanite to someone more benign and caring is both believable and entertaining. Marshalling great and fittingly taciturn performances from all concerned, Guirado understands genre conventions well enough to know that, like our own Whisky Galore! or Local Hero, this kind of remote community comedy rises or falls on the strength of its eccentric subsidiary characters. As such, French film and TV actor veterans Liliane Rovère and Paul Crauchet contribute some vital ancient colour to Antoine’s personal trajectory. It’s not difficult to see why this distracting and heartwarming little film was a huge box office hit in its homeland.
That this bucolic fantasy runs out of steam well before the end of its short running time has more to do with Guirado and co-writer Florence Vignon’s schematic screenplay (undelivered letters and suicide are regrettable plot devices here). Also Guirado’s lack of experience and feel for tone and pace makes themselves felt in the jumbled final third of the film. Still, The Grocer’s Son is undeniably a charmer.
GFT, Glasgow from Fri 15-Thu 21 May. Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Thu 28-Sun 31 May.