BFI London Film Festival Review: My Old Lady (2014)

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At the age of 75, critically acclaimed playwright Israel Horovitz decided to translate one of his plays into a film, his only aspiration to make “the most beautiful film [he] possibly could”. With no film experience behind him, he took the chance in assembling an all-star cast and an incredibly talented crew, and it was not long before his directorial debut film, My Old Lady, came to fruition.

An American man (Kevin Kline) arrives in Paris to move into the apartment he inherited from his late father, only to find out that it is occupied by an  elderly woman, Mathilde (Maggie Smith), and under a strangely complicated agreement in which he can only take  ownership of the house when the woman passes away. With no money and no where to go, Mathilde reluctantly lets him stay until he finds somewhere else to go, but he is met with hostility by the woman’s daughter, Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas), who also lives in the house. As the three of them battle out their differences through love, anger and sadness, family secrets are revealed and life-changing discoveries are made by each of them.

Poignant and darkly funny, My Old Lady is not the romantic-comedy it is advertised as, but serves as a much deeper insight into the confusing world of dysfunctional families.  Both Kline and Scott Thomas are incredible; he plays Mathias’ cynicism and troubled mind without crossing the line into melodrama, and she brings out the realism of Chloé that contrasts and, eventually, connects with Mathias’ personality. Smith is given the chance to play a character more profoundly intense than she is often given the chance to express, and she does so with unfeigned wit and charm.

With the streets of Paris as their backdrop, and a stunning score by Mark Orton, My Old Lady is a surprising and, ultimately, touching in a way that is so rare in film. The sharp humour and unfailingly brilliant cast make this film a cinematic wonder and, despite its scare flaws, there is no doubt that Horovitz achieved his goal of making the most beautiful film he possibly could.

Rating: ★★★★

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