DRIVING MADELEINE (Une belle course) Review: A Life Less Ordinary

Contributing Writer
DRIVING MADELEINE (Une belle course) Review: A Life Less Ordinary

Despite the somewhat misleading English title (the original name can be roughly translated as “a lovely ride”), Driving Madeleine by a French director Christian Carion, is not exactly what it seems and has some surprises stored. Carion, who is mostly known for his historical drama Joyeux Noël and thriller My Son (as well as its auto-remake), offers up a crowd-pleaser in a popular genre called “two strangers with different experiences meet and influence each other’s lives”.

In this fourth collaboration between two French legends, 95-year-old goddess Line Renaud and comedy icon Dany Boon, the latter is the typical Parisian taxi driver. Meaning: his Charles is generally gloomy and is one ticket away from losing his license. He is also discontent with the state of things: mostly, the heavy traffic and his financial troubles that have him quarrelling with his wife and his more successful brother. Enter Madeleine – a 90-something spitfire played by Renaud, who orders a cab to leave for a nursing home despite her wishes. Then – well, you guessed it right, Madeleine quickly charms the grumpy Charles and the two start bonding while Madeleine recounts some of the events from her past.

To be entirely clear – this is a bitter-sweet film, but it is still primarily a feel-good piece. The action isn’t rooted in reality, and the authors know it. This version of Paris that Madeleine and Charles are making their way through, is a romanticized one. It’s uncharacteristically quiet, clean and empty; even the supposedly hellish traffic really only materializes when it’s needed for the plot. The flashbacks of Madeleine’s past, for all the pain and suffering in it, are shown as if through dreamlike lenses – the colors are velvety, the lights are sparkling and Etta James is playing on the background. Even when the memories turn sour as wars and men keep taking more and more from Madeleine (played by Alice Isaaz in the flashbacks), the imagery remains beautiful – as seen through the perspective of a person wise enough to know that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

This is where Carion’s film diverges from the canon. The traditional recipe for these movies usually includes not only bringing up some kind of injustice but also an uplifting (and generally unrealistic) way of dealing with it. There are tons of unfairness in Madeleine’s story but she’s stoically resolute to not be bitter, while her experience doesn’t grant any platitudes beyond something along the lines of “this too shall pass”. That’s not by all means a new perspective (even if it gifts Charles with precisely that), but it shifts the film's focus to something more tangible – the fleeting nature of life, good or bad. Driving Madeleine also thankfully shies away from pathos in favor of intimacy. Flashbacks aside, no one yells here and no one goes off into profound rants; in its core it’s a film filled with closeups of two people talking in a car. This puts a lot of weight on Renaud and Boon, and their duet always comes off as authentically sweet. A lovely ride, indeed.

Driving Madeleine will be released in New York and Los Angeles on January 12th, and in further US cities on January 18th.

Driving Madeleine

  • Christian Carion
  • Cyril Gely
  • Christian Carion
  • Line Renaud
  • Dany Boon
  • Alice Isaaz
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Christian CarionCyril GelyLine RenaudDany BoonAlice IsaazDrama

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