My Old Lady
Toronto International Film Festival: Maggie Smith and Kevin Kline excel in a witty, sophisticated drama from Israel Horovitz
Israel Horovitz should be considered a source of encouragement for anyone in the autumn of their lives. A vastly prolific playwright, occasional screenwriter (Author! Author!) and father of Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz, he has now made his directorial debut at the tender age of 75. My Old Lady is adapted from his 2002 stage play and offers a very enjoyable, soft-centred tale of guilty secrets, hidden lives and family ghosts.
It is a film of civilised pleasures and twinkling repartee notable for the way that Horovitz brings out the best from a starry cast of actors. Kevin Kline is Mathias Gold, a penniless New Yorker who arrives in Paris to claim the vast apartment in Le Marais that has been bequeathed to him by his father. A quick sale should bring him untold riches and a solution to his many problems. The one snag is sitting tenants Mathilde (Maggie Smith) and her daughter Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas). Under an arcane French law, Mathias is unable to sell the property until Mathilde dies but, given that she is 92, he considers that time is on his side. He takes up residence and begins to discover more about why his cold-hearted father owned the apartment in the first place.
My Old Lady often feels like an extended therapy session where the past is dug up, and raked over. It is the light assurance of Horovitz's direction and the performances that make it so engaging. Kline relishes the witty, verbal fireworks and defensive walls built around his character's open wounds. Maggie Smith has a rare latter-day role that demands more of her than withering sarcasm and grand dame theatrics. She is allowed to find the touching humanity in an elderly woman forced to surrender some of her most cherished delusions. It may be a little too neat and tidy in the way that everything is so readily resolved but My Old Lady is still a sophisticated delight.
Screening as part of TIFF 2014. General release from Fri 21 Nov.