Film : Counter romance in Provence
If you add a dash of romance to a summer spent in Provence, you might end up with a tasty, French-style comedy. This Saturday, the Martha's Vineyard Film Society will sponsor a screening of "The Grocer's Son," directed by Eric Guirado.
Although "The Grocer's Son" (2008) starts off in Paris, where surly, 30-year-old Antoine Sforza (Nicolas Cazalé) lives and works as a waiter, it proceeds like a leisurely walk in the country. Antoine has long ago abandoned his childhood home in Provence, where his parents run a rural mom-and-pop grocery store, for life in the big city.
But after Antoine's dad (Daniel Duval) is hospitalized in Paris with a heart attack, his mother (Jeanne Goupil) and brother Francois (Stephane Guerin-Tillié) appeal to Antoine to return home until M. Sforza recovers. At first the prodigal son is reluctant to step up to the plate and meet his familial responsibilities, but when a superior insults him, he walks off his restaurant job. He also invites his charming next-door neighbor, Claire (Clotilde Hesme) to spend the summer in Provence with him.
Antoine borrows money from his mom and lends it to Claire to be sure she will spend the summer studying for an exam that will gain her entry to a Spanish university -- and with him. While the setup is a bit complicated for such a slender comic vehicle, the story that unfolds is a lovely and satisfying tribute to the appeals of life in Provence and its dour but droll citizens.
Antoine offers proof that not every Frenchman is the stereotypically suave Don Juan, and his mother expresses surprise to learn Claire wants her own room. In fact, it's hardly evident that Antoine has a crush on Claire.
Driving around the countryside selling groceries to the mostly elderly folks who live there, Antoine antagonizes many of the family's customers with his gruff, uncooperative manner. But when Claire takes a break and comes along, customers warm to her friendly high spirits.
Writer/director Guirado is said to have spent a year following such traveling grocers, and he does an excellent job of depicting an idiosyncratic but quintessentially French way of life. Antoine and Claire get to know each other, and the audience is privy to the family dynamics of a grumpily recovering dad, peace-making mom, and prickly brother Francois.
Best of all are the portraits of the Sforza family's customers. Clémont (Paul Crauchet) is a crusty old farmer heading toward dementia, who barters four eggs for a can of peas; and Lucienne (Liliane Rovere) is a wild-haired, over-the-hill vamp with a wonderful taste for sarcasm. After the grocery truck's metal awning falls and knocks her flat, she dons a metal bowl for protection.