Cannes, Un Certain Regard

CANNES -- The abandoned child is a sure-fire dramatic devise, and it is to writer-director Pierre Schoeller's credit that in "Versailles" he uses it to explore true sentiment rather than mere sentimentality. Indeed the child character is essentially abandoned twice in the movie, yet no violins sob on the soundtrack. Indeed this is one of those minimalist, neo-realist French films that eschew all but ambient sounds and music.

"Versailles" is pure art house: Its penetration in territories outside of French-speaking will certainly be minor. But the film does afford the pleasures of fine acting and intelligent writing.

A young destitute mother (Judith Chemia), who lives on the streets with her 5-year-old son (Max Baissette de Malglaive), comes across a vagabond (Guillaume Depardieu), who inhabits a makeshift hut in the woods near Versailles Palace. Despite his own homelessness, she sees in the man a kindness and probably a greater sense of responsibly than he himself imagines. After spending the night with him, she vanishes, leaving behind her boy.

A season changes, and the man and boy bond. A prodigal son himself, the tramp reluctantly returns to his father's home so the boy can live a more normal life. He legally adapts the child, gets him into school, then hits the road again. A normal life isn't for him, but he trusts his father and his father's wife to raise the boy.

Schoeller gives us scant information about both adults. Each apparently had a drug problem and an intolerable home life. The focus is therefore on the growing relationship between the man and boy and later the enduring love the mother has for the child to whom she means to return.

The child teaches each parent to grow up. For the man, a "normal" life is hopeless but he endures it as long as he must for the boy's sake. As for the mother, she appears to get her act together. Time will tell.

Charlie Chaplin made classic comic melodramas with similar material, but Schoeller merely wants to observe a character forced to adapt to an unexpected love. For the first time in his life, he has to think about someone other than himself. The character stays true to his nature and foibles -- as indeed does the mother -but in the end a little child shall lead them both.