The Good Life (La Belle Vie) is a French drama film based on a true story. It’s a delicate, coming of age tale and portrait of paternal love set in the freewheeling countryside. It asks some big questions about love and freedom. But while it is beautiful, it fails to fill in some of the more important dots.
The film marks the directorial debut of Jean Denizot who doubles as the movie’s scriptwriter alongside Frédérique Moreau. It tells the story of Yves (Nicolas Bouchaud) a nomad who has two sons. When the boys were aged five and seven, Yves lost out at a custody hearing but rather than hand the children over to their mother, he instead disappeared with them. Now the boys are aged 16 and 18 and the trio live a nomadic life, changing their names and back stories as they coast through different towns, living outdoors and in abandoned properties and making ends meet where they can.
The lifestyle is an alternative one and the story is based on the real-life story of a French father. The latter was eventually charged with child abduction and sentenced to prison. This film does not include any courtroom dramas or specific examples of the case, it merely shows the final chapter of the boys’ lives on the run as they become adults and increasingly frustrated by their protective father. They discover that their seemingly free lives also contain many rules, lies and restrictions.
The relationship between the sons and their father is a complex one. The elder child, Pierre (Jules Pélissier) is the first one to flee from this arrangement. Meanwhile, his brother, Sylvain (Zacharie Chasseriaud– who shines as the real star of this film, as much of the story is told through his eyes) only really begins to question things after he meets and falls in love with his first crush, Gilda (Solène Rigot).
The Good Life is a nuanced, character study which boasts lots of divine shots of the French countryside. It is also gentle in its telling of a rather complex and disturbing relationship and the sacrifices each party has had to make. Ultimately it shows how Sylvain has to cut the apron strings to his only real constant, his father. One real downside of this film is that the motives behind the father’s actions are not fully explored, nor are the problems (if any) that the mother has.
This film is uneven in places and slow at times but Sylvain is a likeable and charismatic character. The use of upbeat country and bluegrass music is often at odds with what is being portrayed but overall, this film shows real promise for a directorial debut. Ultimately, the take home message is that while we may feel love and live in paradise, sometimes having it all and living the “good life” is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Good Life (La Belle Vie) screens as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival on August 5 and 14. For more information and tickets please visit: http://miff.com.au/program/film/5436.