Pierre Salvadori makes the sort of light French comedies that you enjoy and then can’t remember if you ever saw or not. I had to check my review database to see if I had seen “Priceless,” with Audrey Tautou as a golddigger who falls for a bartender (I hadn’t), or “Apres Vous,” in which Daniel Auteuil plays a restaurant manager who tries to help out a sad sack (I had. I think.)
So it is with “In the Courtyard,” his pleasant and bittersweet new film starring the great Catherine Deneuve, which didn’t get much of a release at all in the United States and is now available on DVD from Cohen Media. I enjoyed it, and I probably won’t ever think of it again five minutes from when I finish this review.
The main character actually is Antoine (Gustave Kervern), a bearlike musician who, after one gig, finally has decided he’s had enough. (I think we’re supposed to see Antoine as sort of a Gallic Stephan Merritt, especially since Merritt’s music peppers the film.) He’s too depressed to play any more, so he gives up music and takes a job as a caretaker for an old Parisian apartment building.
The residents are the usual collection of oddballs, including a cult follower who insists on spreading his propaganda, and a bicycle thief whose apartment is filled with stolen loot. But most resonate is the building’s owner, Mathilde (Deneuve). She is starting to become unhealthily obsessed with a crack in the building, and her nervousness that the crack will spread and destroy the building begins to consume her.
That crack may be a metaphor for dementia, or aging, or some combination of the two. Antoine is too inward-looking to offer much in the way of wisdom, but the friendship between the two damaged souls is the best thing about “In the Courtyard,” and Salvadori isn’t afraid to give his comic lines a sad aftertaste.
Unfortunately, “Courtyard” meanders off from this central relationship into too many scenes with the other residents, who often feel like they should be sitcom kooky neighbors rather than fully realized characters. A sudden turn towards straight drama late in the film feels like a forced way to try and bring things to a resolution, although Salvadori does land upon a lovely last image that serves as a poignant metaphor for how to deal with the cracks in all our lives. I just hope I don’t forget it.