The Villa – movie review

This star-studded French comedy, which was a hit at the recent Alliance Francaise French Film Festival, is largely set within a retirement village. The Villa (aka Maison de retraite in some markets) is another example of those increasingly popular “grey power” films along the lines of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its ilk which depict elderly people finding love and a second chance of happiness late in life and taking charge of their own destiny.

Milann (played by comic Kev Adams, from The Spy Who Dumped Me) was raised in an orphanage – he has never had much in the way of love or support and has grown up an angry young man. He is in debt to Moncef (Oussama Kheddam), a vicious money lender as well. He doesn’t particularly like old people either. Working as a cashier at a supermarket he has an angry altercation with an elderly customer that results in the customer being injured. As a result, Milann is sentenced to serve 300 hours of community service, and to his horror he is to serve his time working in the Maison de Mimosa, a retirement home.

He initially resents the time spent with these senior citizens, and they in turn are reluctant to accept him. But after Milan is beaten up by Moncef for failing to pay up, one of the residents at the home shows him some compassion and Milann learns a valuable lesson and begins to soften his attitude. He is taken under the wing of Lino Vartan (Gerard Depardieu), a former boxer who sees something in the hapless Milann.

Among the other residents of the retirement home are Alfred (Daniel Prevost, from The Dinner Game), who suffers from Alzheimers, who is regularly visited by other residents for an informal “confession” in which they unburden themselves to him and feel better because he cannot remember what they have told him; Fleurette (Firmine Richard, from 8 Women) keeps suggesting new recipes to Ferrand (Antoine Dulery, from Everyone’s Life), the home’s director, in the hope that he can upgrade their rather bland food.

None of the residents are permitted to leave the grounds – “for their own safety” they are told by Ferrand. But Milann soon suspects that Ferrand is corrupt and is financially exploiting the old folk in his care. Milann hatches a scheme with Samy (Omar Mebrouk), his childhood friend and housemate who is also a lawyer, to help the elderly folk escape from the home.

The film is based on an idea Adams himself developed with Romain Levy (Radiostars), and he co-wrote the screenplay for this comedy with Catherine Diament (Roommates Wanted). They show warmth and sympathy towards the characters and give many of the elderly residents distinct personalities and idiosyncratic traits. The characters are brought to life by an ensemble cast of veteran French actors including Liliano Rovere, Mylene Demongeot, Jean-Luc Bideau and Marthe Villalonga. Depardieu (Lost Illusions) brings a hint of vulnerability and pathos to his role as the former boxer increasingly aware of his weakness and failing health.

The Villa shows that one generation can learn from another, but it also deals with themes of abuse of the elderly and corruption and a system of health care that puts profit ahead of wellbeing. The film has been directed with a suitably light touch by Thomas Gilou (the Would I Lie To You? trilogy), who clearly has sympathy for the plight of the elderly characters. The writers and director do not condescend to the elderly nor do they make fun of them and their infirmities. The film has been brightly shot by cinematographer Pierric Gantelmi D’Ille (Mesrine), and the production design from Jacques Rouxel (Cyrano de Bergerac) is very good.

Like so many other Gallic films, this feel-good ensemble comedy has the potential for a Hollywood remake that could feature a number of veteran thespians in key roles.

Greg King

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