The Speech (15)         French Film Festival

Laurent Tirard’s lightness of touch allied to his deft interpretation of Fabrice Caro’s novel turns what had all the makings of a potential disaster into an extremely witty triumph.

A stream of consciousness delivery from the central character, who repeatedly brings the action to a halt while he breaks the fourth wall in order to discuss his situation with the audience could have got very messy, not to say irritating. Particularly as his self-absorption renders him, initially at least, as not really very likeable.

Adrien (Benjamin Lavernhe) is at a family dinner – mother, father, sister and sister’s fiancée. He may be with them in body, but his mind is elsewhere. It has been 38 days since his girlfriend Sonia (Sara Giraudeau) has “paused” their relationship, and he’s desperate to make contact. He’s tried texting her, to no avail, and is stressing over whether to send a follow-up, and if so, what to say. Meanwhile, the family make smalltalk on such delights as the advantages of underfloor heating. (The inconsequential nature of the conversation, and the realisation that no-one is really paying any attention to what the others say, leads him to imagine that they are surrounded by a team of UN interpreters trying to make sense of it all).

But worse is to come for Adrien, as his stress levels go through the roof when his future brother-in-law requests that Adrien makes a speech at the wedding. This sends his imagination rocketing wildly through a variety of possible disastrous situations, to the extent that one of his fantasies has the happy couple being killed in a car crash. His realisation that he would then have to give a speech at the funeral leaves him feeling even more trapped.

While most of the film takes place around the dinner table, we frequently leave that to follow Adrien’s reminiscences of life with Sonia, and dreams of various possible futures. The latter tend to feature Sonia with a new lover, with whom Adrien feels unable to compete, and only add to his unhappiness. Always, though, his thoughts return to the nightmare of the wedding speech.

At the end there is a resolution, although open to interpretation, that almost allows us to each give Adrien the future we feel he deserves.

I’ve seen a lot of films which have claimed to be “feelgood” movies that have left me feeling nothing of the sort, but Tirard’s gentle hand on the tiller, allied to Lavernhe’s perfectly judged performance and a script to match, leave us feeling so much better for having seen this one.

Jim Welsh

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