Our Summer in Provence (Avis de mistral): Film Review

A potpourri of cliches and sentiment that turns the south of France into a theme park attraction.

Writer-director Rose Bosch follows up her WWII tearjerker “The Roundup” with this light family drama set in the south of France and starring Jean Reno (“Ronin”).

Rarely has a movie attempted so unsuccessfully to bridge the generation gap as in Our Summer in Provence (Avis de mistral), a bogus family dramedy where two Parisian teenagers discover the glories of rustic living at the hands of their crotchety grandfather, played by seasoned French star Jean Reno (The Professional, Ronin). This latest effort from writer-director Rose Bosch -- whose WWII saga, The Roundup (La Rafle), received a small U.S. release in 2011 -- tries awfully hard to be appealing, but is more like a tartine loaded with stereotypes both old and new, then smothered in a thick layer of schmaltz. Distributed locally by Gaumont to little fanfare, the film should see only modest box office at home, with scattered international pickups by outfits hoping to market this baloney to older audiences.

When you open your movie, The Graduate-style, with Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence," you’d best be delivering something with a fraction of the intensity and verisimilitude of the Mike Nichols classic, or at the very least provide us with characters we can actually believe in. But from the outset, Provence sketches its world with brushstrokes so broad, so corny and so feel-goody, it’s like watching a feature-length campaign ad Paid for by the Committee to Elect Southern France the Greatest Place on Earth, and directed by its founding member.

After their parents separate, siblings Lea (Chloe Jouannet) and Adrien (Hugo Dessioux), and their deaf-mute younger bro, Theo (Lukas Pelissier), are shipped off to the picturesque Camargue region, where they shack up on the farm of grandparents Paul (Jean Reno) and Irene (Anna Galiena). Being typical teenagers, the two kids spend their days glued to their iPhones, whining about organic food and brand-dropping Facebook and Google -- much to the chagrin of crabby old Paul, who cultivates and presses his own olive oil when he’s not getting plastered off pastis with his barfly friends.

But just as the seasonal mistral -- the strong summer wind from which the film takes its French title -- will soon bring flowers to Paul’s garden, his jaded Parisian grandchildren will inevitably find themselves pollinated by all the regional charms, which include festive town dances, all-you-can-drink sangria and a lively running of the bulls. And of course, the two teens will both be offered tastes of local flavor, with Lea falling for a swarthy perma-tanned cowboy (Tom Leeb) and Adrien hooked on a voluptuous ice cream vendor (Aure Atika), whose luscious boobs he admires when she leans over to fill a tub with vanilla gelato. (Yes, that scene really exists.)

The cliches reach their apotheosis when grandpa’s biker friends come rolling onto the farm one evening, kicking off an all-night nostalgia fest where the women dress in flower power costumes, reminisce about Woodstock and everyone performs acoustic versions of ’60s classics. For those eager to see action star Reno singing along to “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” with a bunch of Gallic hippies, this may be your movie.

Otherwise, the various plotlines feel so telegraphed that there is little to look forward to during a severely drawn-out denouement, where Bosch and DP Stephane Le Parc (Nous York) crane up the camera several times but never actually end the film. The rest is all music montages and shots of sun-drenched southern comfort.

Performances feel exaggerated, even if Reno manages to show a certain level of restraint, or maybe he’s just tired. While the teen turns are especially over-the-top, Bosch fares worse with little Theo, who’s really only there to boost the cutie-pie factor at strategic points -- up to and including appearing on the French poster atop Reno’s shoulders, even though his character hardly has a place in the story.

Production: Legende Films

Cast: Jean Reno, Anna Galiena, Chloe Jouannet, Hugo Dessioux, Aure Atika, Lukas Pelissier

Director-screenwriter: Rose Bosch

Producer: Ilan Goldman

Executive producer: Mark Vade

Director of photography: Stephane Le Parc

Production designer: Pierre Queffelean

Costume designer: Mimi Lempicka

Editor: Sam Danesi

Sales: Gaumont

No rating, 104 minutes