The Sweet Escape (4 stars)

The Sweet Escape

Charming French midlife crisis movie created by and starring Bruno Podalydès

Everyone needs a little adventure to brighten their daily lives. Confronted by the anxieties of middle-age, graphic artist Michel (Bruno Podalydès) chooses none of the standard masculine responses of buying a motorbike, chasing a younger woman or hiring a personal trainer. Instead, he falls in love with the notion of owning a kayak and setting sail as an intrepid solo adventurer on the waterways of Burgundy. Indulgent wife Rachelle (Sandrine Kiberlain) wishes him well as he heads into an uncertain future, armed with an endless amount of kit, his trusty ukulele and very little in the way of common sense.

Written and directed by its lead actor Podalydès, The Sweet Escape (Comme Un Avion) has a warm, beguiling spirit and unfolds with the lightest of touches. As pleasant as a meander through the autumn countryside, it is like a laidback version of a Woody Allen comedy, seasoned with the kind of eclectic soundtrack (from Daft Punk to Bach) that you might expect in a Wes Anderson delight.

Slapstick comedy is combined with absurdist interludes (including a cameo appearance from veteran actor Pierre Arditi) and then integrated within a plaintive exploration of a midlife crisis. Michel clearly longs for more than his office job and his urban existence. He has barely travelled along his first stretch of river when he stops at an inn and discovers such an agreeable group of individuals and appealing pace of life that he is reluctant to move any further.

Low-key, unassuming but immensely engaging, The Sweet Escape has a dry wit, welcome streaks of whimsicality and a fine ensemble cast that also includes Agnès Jaoui as Laëtitia, the warm-hearted widow whom Michel encounters on his travels. There hasn’t been a more charming French film this year.

Limited release from Fri 6 Nov.

The Sweet Escape

  • 4 stars
  • 2015
  • France
  • 1h 44min
  • Directed by: Bruno Podalydès
  • Cast: Bruno Podalydès, Sandrine Kiberlain, Agnès Jaoui
  • UK release: 6 November 2015

Graphic artist Michel (Podalydès) dreams of being an airmail plane pilot, but settles for building a kayak and sailing down a river in search of adventure. A pleasant meander through the autumn countryside, with slapstick comedy and absurdist interludes, it's unassuming but immensely engaging.