My Old Lady

Directed By: Israel Horovitz

Starring: Maggie Smith, Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Dominique Pinon

"If you do not love me, I shall not be loved."
-Samuel Beckett

This is going to sound completely nerdy, but I'm going to put these words out on the web anyway.  I love to learn at the movies.  Some of my most treasured cinematic memories are those where filmmakers have expanded my boundaries, exposed me to different cultures and ways of life, and enlightened me with new perspectives on the world in which we live.  I know this sounds like something that belongs squarely in some cheeky advertisement for how great movies are, but it's true.  I simply love to learn at the movies.  This week's lesson comes from the independent comedy-drama My Old Lady in which I learn all about the viager system in France and how it's a significant financial gamble on the death of the seller.

After his father's passing, Mathias Gold (Kevin Kline) inherits some prime real estate in Paris.  Because of its location, the apartment his father left him is worth millions.  There's just one catch.  The previous owner lives there.  Along with her daughter Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas), 92 year-old Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith) resides in the apartment.  To make matters more interesting, Mathias's father entered a viager, meaning that Mathias is actually obligated to pay Mathilde and her daughter a fee of 2,400 euros per month.  As Mathias absorbs the debt he has inherited, he begins contemplating selling it to the highest bidder.  This causes some tension in the household to say the least.

My Old Lady is a maze of love, adultery, and their depressing consequences.  What's interesting about this is the curiosity with which director Israel Horovitz navigates this maze.  For a moviegoer like me who's learning about the viager system for the first time (as I expect many are), this curiosity feeds our inquisitive spirits.  You can see this manifested in the rather twisted plot that gradually unfolds.  You can hear it in the film's playful, lighthearted score.  You can feel it in the upbeat pacing of the plot developments and dialogue.  All in all, My Old Lady is a fun yet enlightening lesson in the ways of the French.

The film features some knockout performances from its trio of stars.  For her part as 92 year-old Mathilde Girard, Dame Maggie Smith deftly delivers a delicious performance as this delusional, highly sarcastic older woman.  Sipping fine wine and offering plenty of words of wisdom, Smith gives us a fiery denier immersed in her misgivings about Mathias and his views of his late father.  For his part as Mathias Gold, Kevin Kline delivers a darkly charming performance as this embittered son.  Blending depression, cunning, and charm, he gives us this endearing yet emotionally damaged middle-age man.  Finally, we have Kristin Scott Thomas as Mathilde's daughter Chloé Girard.  Delivering a biting performance as a woman trying to protect her mother from what she initially perceives to be the snake in her home, she gives a nuanced take on this surprisingly fragile character, a nearly old yet perfect flower.

My Old Lady is an educational cinematic experience that advocates for living life to the fullest.  The viager deal is a serious gamble on life.  The buyer is betting on the fact that the seller will die so that the deal is cheap.  The seller is lowering the asking price for his or her property for a new source of income.  A twisted system like this was destined to be the subject of a comedy, and My Old Lady was the right movie at the right time.  Moreover, it literally and figuratively demonstrates that there is no greater wealth than life.  This comedy-drama gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.