This morning I sat down to write a review of this film. It is currently no longer morning and the review is barely underway. The reason for this is that as I sat down to express my thoughts on this charming French coming of age story I realised that I had nothing to say. Yes, the film is heartwarming, yes it shows a fascinating picture of family life, and for that matter rural French life. Yet somehow it did not capture my imagination at all. For a film that I have now seen twice, I find this extraordinary.
My first theory for this was that I am essentially unsuited to watch such a film. The film is an exploration of growing up as a young boy in southern France in the early 1900’s. As can be expected, I have no common frame of reference here. However this has never stopped me from watching a myriad of other films. No, I think there is a deeper reason as to why I did not get on with Le Gloire de Mon Pere. Namely, the narration. I find it odd when a film feels that it cannot aptly express itself without the need for a voiceover. After all, the first thirty years or so of cinema managed this with absolutely no words spoken at all. It seems therefore, a step backwards for a visual medium, even one based on a book, to rely so heavily on words. Le Gloire de Mon Pere overuses this terribly, points have been made through striking visual images but are unnecessarily hammered home by the narration. Additionally I think that it takes away from the performance of Julien Ciamaca as the child protagonist. His portrayal of Marcel as a slightly precocious, but well-meaning child is sensitive and measured but when accompanied by a voice explaining his every facial expression begins to feel forced and comically exaggerated.
In places, the film is inspired. The park scenes, which look like a Seurat painting come to life and the swelling pastoral score set the scene perfectly. Yet there are places where the adaptation is painfully lacking in filmic language. On more than one occasion a short exchange of dialogue is describe through narration while both characters are in fact on screen in silence. I find this approach so utterly bizarre that it negates much of what the film has in it’s favour, the score, the cinematography, even many other parts of the script. Least of all the performances of the three child leads, who all conjure a graceful and natural image of childhood that is instantly recognisable.