'Florida' ('Floride'): Locarno Review

Courtesy of Festival del Film Locarno
An unfocused and rambling but generously acted dramedy.

French veteran actor Jean Rochefort headlines this bittersweet comedy-drama from Philippe Le Guay ('The Women on the Sixth Floor') about an octogenarian father with dementia.

A long-retired father starts to lose his memory but nonetheless wants to stay independent in Florida (Floride), the latest glossy comedy-drama from French director Philippe Le Guay (Cycling with Moliere). Marking the welcome return to the big screen of French acting icon Jean Rochefort, who has only done voicework in the last three years, the film thankfully doesn’t sugarcoat the realities of living with dementia, with the French veteran star delivering a pleasingly barbed performance. But although Florida certainly has its heart in the right place, this adaptation of Florian Zeller’s hit play The Father never quite finds the right focus or structure for the material, uneasily moving between comedy and drama, realism and theatricality. Just polite business is likeliest at local levels, though Rochefort’s meaty turn is certainly a marketing hook that’ll interest older audiences at home and, to a lesser extent, abroad.

Octogenarian Claude Lherminier (Rochefort) used to run a paper mill near the picturesque French town of Annecy, just across the border from its more famous Swiss neighbor, Geneva. But he retired in the 1990s, when his daughter Carole (Sandrine Kiberlain, Le Guay’s lead from The Women on the Sixth Floor) took over. Claude’s domestic help, Madame Forgeat (Edith Le Merdy), is quickly growing tired of the old man’s antics, which would be inexcusable in regular circumstances. From the get-go, Le Guay and his regular screenwriter, Jerome Tonnerre, milk his leering, inappropriate questions and occasionally childlike behavior for gentle if sometimes awkward chuckles. But when Lherminier accuses Forgeat of having stolen his watch she quits and thus leaves it up to busy businesswoman Carole to try and find a new help who’ll put up with her father.

Le Guay doesn’t seem interested in the medical details of Claude’s condition; it isn’t even mentioned whether he’s suffering from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. What is obvious is that he’s increasingly stuck in the past, shown in brief, brightly lit flashbacks, and has a particular connection with his daughter, Alice (Audrey Looten), who died nine years earlier but who’s still very much alive in Claude’s mind. The title references the U.S. state where Alice used to live, and Claude still insists on drinking only O.J. from the Sunshine State. In what’s perhaps not a coincidence, he also owns a vintage, celeste-colored Renault Floride convertible (called Renault Caravelle in the English-speaking world), though Carole doesn’t allow him to drive it anymore.

The main problem with the feature is a simple one: There are too many things going on for a single film. Besides the loving but not always easy rapport between a father and his remaining daughter, who doesn’t dare remind him that her sister’s been dead for years, there’s Carole’s relationship with her own college-age son (Clement Metayer, from Assayas’ Something in the Air), who looks after granddad on weekends. Carole is also getting increasingly serious about her lover, Thomas (Laurent Lucas), a temporary technical expert at the mill. And Claude also has to try to get on with the new Romanian maid (Anamaria Marinca, from 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days), whom he involves a little too much in his crazy obsession with a recently deceased neighbor.

As also suggested by its irregular shifts back-and-forth between more comical and dramatic elements, Le Guay seems unsure what the focus of the story should be. And to complicate matters even further, he throws in brief flashforwards to Claude on a plane, where he wreaks kind, old-man havoc on his fellow passengers on a trip to Miami. These interludes break up the flow of the already fragmented story and the likeable -- or, in the case of Claude, at least interesting -- characters never manage to fully compensate for the film’s tendency to ramble.

Rochefort’s performance is a generous and finely shaded one, with one of the highlights a moment he reportedly himself suggested, involving a car, a desire to relieve himself and a sudden, sobering realization of what’s actually happening. He also has an unspoken complicity with Kiberlain, even when his character doesn’t recognize her. But it all isn’t quite enough to suggest what it means to live with dementia or with someone with dementia, and Florida could have used more scenes like the brief but enlightening exchange between Carole and Thomas in a car, when he tries to convince her to finally put her father in a home, even though he clearly doesn’t want that himself. “You organize your entire life around him and he can’t even realize it,” he says to Carole, perhaps making him harsh and unkind but also giving her a necessary reality check. 

If the early going still betrays the text’s theatrical origins, Le Guay has managed to open up the narrative cinematically in several sequences, taking advantage of the beautiful mountain and lakeside landscapes around Annecy. The family mansion, decorated by the director's regular production designer, Francoise Dupertuis, equally adds to the film’s classy look. In one sequence, Le Guay and editor Monical Coleman also find a neat equivalent for one of the play’s defining features, namely the fact it lets audiences feel something of Claude’s disorientation when, in the play’s second scene, a different actress played the daughter to convey the idea the father doesn’t recognize his own offspring. In the film, a straightforward but very effective ellipsis is used, as Claude suddenly wakes up in different home. Upset and confused, he demands to know where he is, only to be told he’s been there for a month already. 

Production companies: F Comme Film, Cine@, Gaumont, Cinefrance 1888

Cast: Jean Rochefort, Sandrine Kiberlain, Laurent Lucas, Anamaria Marinca, Clement Metayer, Coline Beal, Edith Le Merdy, Christele Tual, Carine Piazzi, Stepanie Bataille

Director: Philippe Le Guay

Screenplay: Philippe Le Guay, Jerome Tonnerre, screenplay based on the play The Father by Florian Zeller

Producers: Jean-Louis Livi, Philippe Carcassone

Director of photography: Jean-Claude Larrieu

Production designer: Francoise Dupertuis

Costume designer: Elisabeth Tavernier

Editor: Monica Coleman

Music: Jorge Arriagada

Casting: Tatiana Vialle

Sales: Gaumont

No rating, 110 minutes

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