'And If We All Lived Together?' ('Et si on vivait tous ensemble?'): Film Review

Jane Fonda's star presence shines extra spotlight on the middling though droll French senior-citizen comedy.

French writer-director Stéphane Robelin's second feature is an obvious choice for festivals, boosted by a supporting cast of well known actors from several countries including the U.S's Jane Fonda.

LOCARNO — Certainly a world away from Jane Fonda'slast Gallic foray, Jean-Luc Godard'sconfrontational 1972 All's Well (Tout va bien), And If We All Lived Together? (Et si on vivait tous ensemble?), a second feature from writer-director Stéphane Robelin(after 2004's little-seen Real Movie) is essentially a mainstream, commercial enterprise, blandly shot on digital video by Dominique Colin. A wry charmer with poignant undertones, there's just enough vinegar in the vanilla to keep things engaging.

A crowd-pleasing choice for festivals, the film has obvious prospects in French cinemas, boosted by a supporting cast featuring well-known, long-established actors from the country. International art-house and small screen play is also probable, though this will surely go down as a minor footnote in Fonda's eclectic filmography.

In a role that's as well tailored as her quietly elegant, youthfully cut attire, Fonda is Jeanne, a former philosophy lecturer who, in the opening moments, learns that she's suffering from a terminal illness. An American living in France since her teenage years, Jeanne keeps the grim news to herself as her husband Albert (Pierre Richard) is far from well, an increasingly forgetful chap gradually succumbing to Alzheimer's. Health woes are also becoming a major issue in the life of the couple's long-time pal Claude (Claude Rich), though this isn't sapping the larger-than-life roué's sex-drive, which he fulfils via regular visits to prostitutes.

Reluctant to opt for expensive, stifling senior-citizen homes (which they deride as being full of "fossils"), Albert, Jeanne and Claude eventually end up moving into the spacious, well-appointed house of their friends Annie (Geraldine Chaplin) and Jean (Guy Bedos), the latter a former 1960s firebrand open to rediscovering the joys of “communal” living. But it isn't long before long-buried secrets emerge, igniting jealous passions that imperil the whole experiment. This all unfolds under the watchful eyes of Dirk (German star Daniel Brühl), an ethnologist specializing in geriatric studies, who is hired, slightly implausibly, as the group's live-in caretaker.

Dirk's presence, while clumsily integrated, does at least allow for a series of lovely scenes involving Brühl and Fonda. As they walk in a nearby park, a platonic, gently flirtatious relationship develops in which the older women chats frankly about her sex life ("I frequently masturbate...") and passes on some of her accumulated wisdom. The trimness of Fonda's figure at 73 is well-known, but in these scenes it's the fiery intelligence in her eyes which really impresses, suggesting she's eminently capable of tackling more challenging material in her upcoming projects.

Here she slots nicely into an impressive ensemble of veterans, and Brühl, seven years after supporting Judi Dench and Maggie Smith in Ladies in Lavender, once again proves an effective foil for his scene-dominating elders. Each has their moment to shine, though Chaplin, a sprightly presence in turquoise Converse topsiders, is perhaps a little underused.

Among the producers of And If We All Lived Together, a Franco-German enterprise, is Peter Rommel, who had a sizeable hit in Germany with Andreas Dresen's Cloud 9 (2008), a picture which broke the 'taboo' about depicting sexual intercourse among the elderly. There's only one explicit scene here — just one brief, steamy shot involving Dirk and his new girlfriend — but the picture does address these little-discussed issues with commendable directness. It's also not afraid to examine matters of mortality in a mature and unsentimental way, acknowledging that today's seniors are in many cases the angry young men (and women) of a few decades ago.

Venue: Locarno Film Festival
Production companies: Les Films de la Butte, Manny Films, Rommel Film
Cast: Jane Fonda, Claude Rich, Daniel Brühl, Geraldine Chaplin, Pierre Richard, Guy Bedos
Director/screenwriter: Stéphane Robelin
Producers: Christophe Bruncher, Philippe Gompel, Aurélia Grossmann, Peter Rommel
Associate producer: Frédérique Dumas
Director of photography: Dominique Colin
Production designer: David Bersanetti
Costume designer: Jurgen Doering
Music: Jean-Philippe Verdi
Editor: Patrick Wilfert
Sales: The Match Factory, Cologne
No rating, 96 minutes