Saturday, September 13, 2014

REVIEW: The Little Bedroom

Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond's "The Little Bedroom" is a film with death on its mind. In its first scene, a Swiss man explains his upcoming emigration plans to his aging father who remarks "I'll try to die in August, so you can come to my funeral". It's a comment made in jest but founded in reality. Such thoughts plague the minds of our protagonists, in this surprisingly gratifying story that deals with loss and companionship.

Confined to the indoor boundaries of nursing homes and private residences, "The Little Bedroom" hones in on the personal lives of the aforementioned Edmond (Michel Bouquet) and his nurse Rose (Florence Loiret Caille). When we're introduced to the diabetic Edmond, he's being taken on a visit to the nursing home where his son wants him to be re-located, a proposition he staunchly rejects. He prefers to remain at home with the comforting presence of Rose. Despite his typical elderly stubbornness, the two have a mutual understanding. They're not exactly compatible personalities but as the plot unfolds, it's revealed that they share struggles with loss. For him, it's the loss of his independence, vitality and family. In Rose's case, she suffers from memories of the loss of a son during childbirth, exacerbated by a husband who wants to move on. These factors cause them to lead melancholic lives but together they are content. Edmond one day suffers from a fall however, forcing Rose to take drastic measures to ensure that they maintain their relationship. Moving him into her own home, they strengthen their bond further, digging deep into their wells of despair to find hope and a new zeal for life.

In approaching this character study of our protagonists, "The Little Bedroom" carries itself with a warm simplicity. It prioritizes heartfelt storytelling over bold direction or camerawork. As such, one could almost see it as a less harrowing version of Michael Hanekes "Amour". Surely, this film may not live up to Haneke's accomplished filmmaking, but its screenplay places no less demands on its actors.

Indeed, the film's success relies on the abilities of Caille and Bouquet to keep you engaged with their emotional journey. Along they way, they prove to be fine casting choices. Despite the sombre tone, Bouquet is a shining light in the film. Decades of acting experience are evident in the way he embodies the character's labored physicality as well as his subtle expressions of Edmond's inner soul. Caille's bigger performance is similarly affecting, but her traces of self-awareness are no match for his lived-in minimalism.

Where the film falters then, is keeping so much of the focus on Rose, whose problems just don't carry the same dramatic weight as Edmond's fragile health and the associated existentialism. Admittedly, the significance of the titular "little bedroom" provides a beautiful turning point that bridges the pair's issues. It's really a nice touch. Still, it doesn't salvage a script which finds itself straining for poignancy in its closing stages.

In the end, "The Little Bedroom" is unlikely to have fired up your emotions but it's an agreeable effort. I'd recommend it mainly for Michel Bouquet's endearing performance, one that flickers with gentle reminders of life's treasures - music, family, friendship and of course love. For these moments of graceful humanity, it's a film that's worth a look.

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