26 November 2007 | klg19
A coming of age tale that is beyond charming
Three generations of French film charisma come together in this marvelous film about a family of French Canadians living in Ottawa (not Quebec!). Charles Boyer, in one of his earliest "character" roles after decades of being a leading-man lover, joins the up-and-coming Louis Jourdan and the old theatrical hand Marcel Dalio to make up the Bonnard family: Grandpere (Dalio) lives with Jacques (Boyer), his wife Susan (Hunt), and their son, Bibi (Driscoll). Jacques' bibulous, layabout brother Louis (Kasznar) lives across the street, with his shrewish, seamstress wife Felice and their possibly unmarriageable daughter. Desmonde, the third brother, is a traveling salesman with a rakish reputation--not unlike his father--who stays with Jacques' family when he's in Ottawa and who is a hero in the eyes of Bibi.
The story itself is small: Desmond comes to stay; Jacques, who plays violin and conducts the orchestra in a small burlesque and movie house, brings a sacked magician's assistant home to be the new maid; Louis storms out of his home and moves in on Jacques' porch; Grandpere falls ill; and Bibi deals with troubles at school and in the heart. But the writing and characterization are so true to life and moving that one gets utterly caught up.
The movie was based on a successful Broadway play (with Kasznar reprising his stage role, along with the young actress who plays girl-next-door Peggy), which in turn was based on a series of stories by Robert Fontaine about his own growing-up. The atmosphere is imbued with a certain French sophistication, but even more with the love and compassion all these members of the family have for each other. The conversation that the father, Jacques, has with his adolescent son, Bibi, as he tries to explain the tension between love and desire could be used successfully as a template for any such talk in any family on earth. But it is not just moving; much of the dialogue is as funny as in any family comedy you can think of.
I had never heard of this film, and only discovered it via Turner Classic Movies guest programmer. Sadly, it is not available in any video medium; I can't think of a better family film. If it comes around again on TCM, be sure to give it a try!