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An unexpected detour to the sticks of Sweden turns into a life-changing road trip for a middle-aged Parisian in Rendezvous in Kiruna. The sophomore feature from Franco-Swedish director Anne Novion uses a tried-and-true formula, bringing together an odd couple of strangers around an unambiguous father-son motif. But the director and her cast never push their points, instead letting the story’s quiet observations build into low-charge detonations that resonate for days afterward. The feature, which bowed in January in France and received its North American Premiere at the COLCOA festival in Los Angeles, could connect stateside with older art-house audiences in select markets.
Working with co-writers Olivier Massart and Pierre Novion, Novion created the scenario for her two leads, Jean-Pierre Darroussin (Novion’s offscreen partner) and Anastasios Soulis, who starred in her first film, Grown Ups, which also was set in Sweden. Their understated chemistry keeps the new movie compellingly unsettled, even when its themes are crystal-clear.
Darroussin plays Ernest, a high-powered architect who reluctantly leaves his thriving business after receiving a phone call from a policeman in northern Sweden. There’s been a boating accident, and the young man who drowned is Ernest’s biological son. With the mother traveling and unreachable, it rests upon Ernest to identify the body of the boy he never met. In the estimation of Ernest (and the audience), it’s an absurd venture, but with its assured pacing, Rendezvous convincingly turns absurdity into potent serendipity.
He sets off by car, without a halfway adequate explanation to his office staff or his girlfriend, Victoire (Judith Henry), who’s already aggravated by the paucity of time and attention she gets from the career-focused Ernest. He has a way of being with people without being fully present, as Magnus (Anastasios Soulis), the hitchhiker who Ernest ends up sharing much of the road trip with, soon learns. A Swede who spent time in France as a student (the producers gave Solis two years to learn French), Magnus is heading north to visit his grandfather.
The road trip is intercut with scenes in Kiruna, Ernest’s destination, where Stig (Claes Ljungmark, affecting), a newly retired chief police inspector, pays close attention to the case of the drowned young man and the mysterious father who’s arriving from France. Gradually revealing Stig’s connection to the dead boy, the screenplay builds toward a low-key clincher when he and Ernest meet.
Until that decisive face-to-face, the story proceeds through an episodic series of encounters, with Ernest and Magnus each eventually confronting truths they’ve been avoiding. (Anne Novion says she “reinvented Sweden a little” in terms of the progression of geography moving toward the border of Lapland.) They wind up giving a lift to a cuckholded biker (Danish actor Kim Bodnia), and the film veers briefly, and jarringly, into relatively broad comedy. But then the sequence turns into an expected comment on trust and forgiveness. Magnus’ grandfather’s (Tord Peterson) provides a more pointed lesson with his tough, loving honesty. The scene at his kitchen table is a poignant snapshot of three men — young, middle-aged and elderly — each facing his aloneness over shots of aquavit.
As self-evident as the central surrogate relationship is, especially considering the nature of Ernest’s trip, the screenplay never takes it into maudlin territory. And though it’s a foregone conclusion that Ernest will see the errors of his goal-driven ways, the screenplay and Darroussin’s subtle performance reach for something more profound than the glib family-vs.-career equation that’s so overused in movies.
Ernest’s impatience as he handles office matters long-distance gives way to a creeping sense of delight, his heart opening. First, one of his cellphone calls is interrupted by the local wildlife. Later, he moves with ease through a village festival that’s a far cry from his elegant life in Paris. At the same time, Solis keeps Magnus unpredictable as he slowly unmasks the anxieties behind his calm and fearless demeanor.
While the performances navigate incremental shifts, the strings of Pascal Bideau’s score signal rising emotion. In the tight quarters of Ernest’s car and in the changing landscape, the camerawork of cinematographer Pierre Novion (the director’s father) is seamless and never showy, perfectly suiting the film’s emotional arc.
Venue: City of Lights, City of Angeles (COLCOA)
Production companies: La Mouche du Coche Films, Les Films de la Greluche
Cast: Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Anastasios Soulis, Claes Ljungmark, Kim Bodnia, Judith Henry, Lia Boysen, Tord Peterson, Dag Malmberg
Director: Anne Novion
Writers: Olivier Massart, Anne Novion, Pierre Novion
Producers: Yann Gilbert, Cecile Telerman
Executive producer: Patrice Arrat
Director of photography: Pierre Novion
Production designer: Martin Dupont-Domenjoud
Music: Pascal Bideau
Editor: Anne Souriau
International Sales: Pyramide International
No MPAA rating, 97 min.
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