Though movies tend to be filled mostly with down time characters, and rarely under the impact of the work they do, on the other hand people go to the movies to get away from jobs, not watched others drudge away at them. So any film about work needs to rise above that innate tedium to express and reveal its emotional or political coloring of their lives.
French director Eric Guirado’s The Grocer’s Son (Le Fils De L’Epicier) in that sense is a mixed bag, conveying the stultifying mechanics of human labor through sheer repetition. Yet aspiring at the same time, to subtle moments of insight rarely captured in movies, as to how work comes to define who we are and how our lives play out on the earth.
Antoine (Nicolas Cazale) is the long estranged adult son of Monsieur Sforza (Daniel Duval), a French grocer in rural Provence who has suffered a heart attack. Antoine’s mother (Jeanne Goupil) implores him to return home from Paris where he drifts between menial jobs, to help tend the store while his father recuperates. And with the scattered local, increasingly elderly population who get around on foot and haven’t yet been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, there’s also Sforza’s side endeavor to run. Namely, a mobile grocery on wheels that makes house calls to these isolated lifelong customers, while business dwindles as the younger population drives to the proliferating supermarkets.
Antoine begrudgingly agrees, but it’s clear that trouble lies ahead in this bickering family, as he’s never forgiven his father for his surly, abusive temperament. And while he himself is the object of disdain from both his father and brother Francois (Stephan Guerin-Tillie), a financially comfortable beautician in town, because his departure for the big city and personal failure there has been viewed as a betrayal of his rural roots and family legacy.
On a whim, Antoine takes along with him his vivacious neighbor and casual friend Claire (Clotilde Hesme), with whom he is secretly smitten. She agrees to tag along, simply hoping to study for her upcoming college exams in a quiet setting. But Antoine’s deepening desire to consummate their relationship, along with the escalating friction among the family members, creates increasing tension all around. Not to mention the eccentric locals with their own peculiar shopping habits and settling of their bills that are driving Antoine into meltdown as he makes his dreary rounds. Including their expectation of extended home visits to chat during deliveries, permanently outstanding accounts, paying whatever they please, and bartering for groceries with newly born kittens and freshly laid eggs.
These quirky characters and the filming of the picturesque, quaint hamlet settings combine to create a heartfelt tale of this kind of endangered communal kinship vanishing from the planet under corporate hard-sell modernization. And this similar stubborn clinging to what feels most meaningful and empowering in each of these personal lives, in opposition to whatever bitter imposing reality of the way things are, stirs with its both melancholy and poignant minimalist lyricism. If only the repetitiveness of those dreary grocery rounds had taken more of a back seat to the social and emotional drama driving the narrative along.
Film Movement Release
2 1/2 stars