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Old 04-09-2009, 04:23 PM
Bertrand Tavernier's A Sunday in the Country

A Sunday in the Country (1984)

While watching "A Sunday in the Country," I was reminded a lot of Visconti's "The Leopard," which has a lot of the similar themes, though this film only has about half the runtime. Both films are about change, a resistance to it and general acceptance of it, while looking forward to the next generation.

Monsieur Ladmiral (Louis Ducreux) is an elderly man who lives with his housekeeper Mercédès (Monique Chaumette). In one of their regular visits, his son, Gonzague (Michel Aumont), his son's wife, Marie-Thérèse (Geneviève Mnich), and their three children come to visit. Eventually, Monsieur Ladmiral's duaghter, Irène (Sabine Azéma), also joins the family at his house. What follows is a family gathering that the audience is invited to be a part of.

Monsieur Ladmiral is a painter whose wife has passed away; however long ago, we are never told. His family coming to visit is the highlight of his week, especially when his daughter, who visits much less frequently than the son, visits. She has always been a harsh critic of his painting, only having liked one enough to take it home with her. She complains that he paints the corners of his workshop too much and that his style is too tame, classic, and lacks passion.

He has never been one for changing his style, even when his wife wanted him to imitate what was original in other painters, he refused to change, saying that he would be even less original for doing so. His style is his own; always painting with honesty. This leads to a few different interpretations of the ending, but we'll get back to that later.

There is a special understanding between Monsieur Ladmiral and his daughter. It is one that never needs to be spoken so that neither of them has to lie about it. She has visited less frequently because, as he assumes and later confirms, that she has a lover. Whereas his son and he don't seem to move forward, she is always forging ahead. This is told in one of the film's many great scenes in which Monsieur Ladmiral discusses his hesitation to move on to photography, which as he says, is easier than painting.

Another extraordinary scene is the one where he is telling why he wouldn't copy what was original in the great artists like Monet and Renoir. He is having a serious discussion with his daughter at an outdoor music hall, and he begins to tell her of a dream he had in which Moses saw the Promised Land and realized that he could die without regret because he had seen what he loved. After not seeing his daughter for so long, Monsieur Ladmiral could be hinting at something.

Now we come to the ending, but don't worry, there aren't any spoilers. The final scene consists of Monsieur Ladmiral returning to his workshop, taking his latest painting, placing it up against a wall, and putting a new canvas on his easel. He turns the easel in the opposite direction, making us think that he is simply going to paint the other corner of the room, in which case, nothing has changed. However, the camera reverses and shows us what he is actually looking at. The camera slowly moves towards the wide-open window and the outside world, a picture that could inspire great passion among artists. Could this be a sign that Monsieur Ladmiral is ready to change his style, adding the passion that his daughter said his paintings were lacking?

This film is beautifully shot, showing us the marvelous French countryside where the entire film takes place. The direction by Bertrand Tavernier is subtle, but shows us everything that we need to know to bond with these characters; he even earned Best Director at Cannes for this film. The countryside begins to feel like its own character as we get the feeling that we too are vacationing in this beautiful landscape.

One of my criteria that goes towards recognizing a great film has been taking something simple and making it extraordinary, which this film pulls of really well. But it's not only that, another one of my main criteria for criticism is whether the film has a good plot and/or story. This film has almost no plot or story, just a family visiting their elderly relative, and yet, it still managed to greatly impress me. That's means I have seen something truly special. 3.5/4 stars.
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