de facto film reviews 3 stars

With Driving Madeleine, director and co-writer Christian Caron, has wrought a minor miracle, in terms of striking a balance between comedy and drama, and between philosophy and action, all of which propel this film as surely as the fuel which helps taxi driver Charles’ vehicle to run along the streets of the Paris metropole. Charles, our cabbie, picks up Madeleine , who begins as just another fare, on a day where he is really feeling a financial crunch. Caron shoots Paris beautifully, with lots of mid-warm colors, but also from a distance, which seems to speak to the way both have, at times, drifted through their lives.

During their day together-Charles is driving Madeleine, 92 years old, to live at an assisted care facility following a severe fall-the two become friends. Charles tells Madeleine about his financial crunch, which Caron uses to let his audience, and Madeline, know how frustrated Charles is. Indeed, Charles deeply cares about his situation, and he recognizes he can no longer fully enjoy or engage with the world around him. As his wife tells him toward the end of the film “maybe we can take a real vacation, someday soon” and you know precisely what that would mean for the two, so carefully drawn have the characters become through the film’s delicate,
funny and poignant dialogue.

Driving Madeleine (2022)

Courtesy Cohen Media Group

During one early sequence, Charles and Madeleine speak about anger, and Madeleine suggests that “anger ages you, so loosen up” to which Charles replies, “but it is everywhere now” and that really strikes at the heart of the film. Madeline, in a series of flashbacks, reveals she had been a teenage mother, having borne a son to an American GI she met at the end of the Second World War. Much of how the film works for a viewer will hinge on their response to these flashbacks, which show Madeline’s standing up to her abusive husband, eventually serving thirteen years in prison for her actions. These scenes return to the conversation about anger. Charles asks Madeleine  , “did you hate him?” and she replies, “you have to love to hate.” The two go about the day like this, but also find time to stop traffic, eat dinner and have a laugh or two while enjoying ice cream. You can feel the bond that has grown, and you can feel the energy of the Parisian streets.

A moment is needed to talk about the film’s technical merits. Yes, the Parisian sights are wonderful to behold, but this is a film where our two main characters may share a space but not always a screen. The way the film is designed and edited is very subtle, with much credit due to the cinematographer, who manages to create several distinct, and, again, subtle modes for each period of the film, largely accomplished by color scheme. Caron, for his part, shoots a rape sequence with discretion and yet monumental force, focusing only briefly on the face of the victim before moving away to show a child hearing this act take place. This may be writerly.
film full of wonderful performances but is no slouch in terms of its production or direction.

Driving Madeleine (Une belle Course) - The Music Hall Courtesy Cohen Media Group

The film concludes on a note both earned and obvious. What you ultimately make of the film could depend on if you enjoy what transpires, here. For this reviewer, I was left thinking both “this is expected but it still works.” Ultimately, the film is much like the many great songs, the jazz-pop standards of the day, which punctuate each segment of the narrative. It is dreamlike, beautiful and yet horror lurks under the surface. This could be a riff on Taxi Driver, and Madeline has her Travis Bickle moment. Does she deserve to be called a heroine, as Charles believes?

There is much to admire, as the film wisely does not tell us what to think, because it knows showing us allows us to make our own decisions. The film’s denouement is rich with emotions, yet works only if you have bought in. We are left with the best sorts of questions, not unanswered plot points, because like life, there are no certainties. There is, however, love, which triumphs-or can-over anger, which is a close cousin to frustration. To this, just before the final act, Charles decides not to engage his brother, a successful doctor who has helped him for years and who begrudges the assistance, and I was left wondering to myself, has Charles realized he
does, or doesn’t, love his brother enough, to care about taking this further? In this way, the film is about growth, choices and letting go of pain and anger.

Driving Madeleine is now available to rent on Amazon Prime and I-Tunes