Granny's Funeral: on hesitating and lessons from the grave
by Fabien Lemercier
20/05/2012 - The mood was light today at the 65th Cannes Film Festival's Directors' Fortnight, as the section briefly switched to comedy with the highly entertaining Granny's Funeral [trailer] by Bruno Podalydès. Featuring the radiant Denis Podalydès (the director's brother), the film is a spirited rendition of a ridiculous, lighthearted story that gently addresses the issues of communication, social conditioning, and life choices.
Armand (Denis Podalydès) is a pharmacist in a quiet town outside Paris. An adult with a child's spirit, he likes performing magic tricks (a theme already found in the filmmaker's The Perfume of the Lady of the Black, screened out of competition in Venice in 2005) and, in life, oscillates between his wife Hélène with whom he works (Isabelle Candelier) and his mistress Alix (a feisty Valérie Lemercier). But really, he doesn't know what he wants. When his grandmother (so discreet that he had almost forgotten her) unexpectedly dies, it allows him to break him free from routine.
Organising the funeral soon becomes farcical, with catalogues of remote-controlled, environmentally friendly, and "two-seater"coffins, half-price discounts, twilight cremations, pre-recorded welcome messages ("For dead, choose 1", "For dying, choose 2"), and a frustrating conversation with a customer service operator sitting somewhere abroad… His mother-in-law (who supports him financially) encourages him to buy from a company called Final ("With Final, it's final!") managed by a New Age hippy (Michel Vuillermoz) with a penchant for 3D demonstrations, formulas called Harmony, Rainbow, and Twilight, and preposterous sale lines such as, "Yul Brynner is buried in the same one!" But Armand secretly rebels by choosing the company's most humane competitor, Funecool. Soon he is off on a countryside excursion to Granny Berthe's retirement home to see if she left behind any instructions about her funeral. The investigation will bear its fruits, as he will discover secrets from beyond the grave that will resonate with him and the hesitations that define his life.
Adieu Berthe is confident in its off-the-wall humour, and has bucketloads of charm, even if its intensity is a little diluted in a second part ending with a clever final twist. The film is a sort of personal homage to the films of Jacques Tati, with Denis Podalydès criss-crossing town on his scooter, but it also weaves its tale around the issue of communication (Armand's father has Alzheimer's, Alix and Armand send each other text messages displayed onscreen, Armand's son lives cooped up in his room totally absorbed by online games, the married couple try to discuss a possible separation, Granny sends messages from the grave...) With a hint of nostalgia, Bruno Podalydès' style good-humouredly poses questions about social de-conditioning, life choices, and the will to choose. As in an unpretentious, but skilled magic trick, the filmmaker manages to pull off a talented choreography of this little human ballet in all its banality, with a bittersweet mixture of distanced irony and tender affection.
(Translated from French)