Daddy Nostalgie

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Dirk Bogarde’s final film, Daddy Nostalgie (released as Daddy Nostalgia in the UK and These Foolish Things in the US), is also, arguably, Jane Birkin’s best one and a reminder (writing this just days after she died) how good she could be away from the shadow cast by Serge Gainsbourg.

It’s a small-scale, almost subterranean drama, played out on the sunny Cote d’Azur, where retiree Tony (Bogarde) is recovering from a serious operation. The op might not have worked and Tony might not have long for this world. Time to get his affairs in order, settle things with wife Miche (Odette Laure) and daughter Caroline (Birkin) before the grim reaper turns up.

And that’s your lot, in essence, three people, one of them the centre of attention, Tony trying to sneak the odd glass of whisky here and there and have one last hurrah, no matter how muted, his daughter abetting him, the wife acting as stern nurse and guardian.

The oldies have regrets – that they didn’t buy this fabulous house overlooking the sea outright when they had the chance, that they didn’t perhaps go for an apartment in Paris instead, that their own relationship has ossified. Miche does not speak to Tony in English any more, he complains. She barely talks to him in French either, except to bark orders or tut (much more effective in a French accent).

If they have regrets about Caroline, how they raised her, neglected her, they never express them. And as Caroline fusses around Dad, makes him comfortable, conspires with him in little ways against Miche, that’s what Caroline most wants to hear. Not even as much as an apology. That would be too much to expect. But an acknowledgement by Tony that it was always all about him and never about her.

Caroline and her mother at the kitchen table
Caroline and her mother

Bertrand Tavernier could have done all this with fireworks, with stand-up rows, anguished soul-baring and tears before bedtime but instead opts for a blithely sunny and almost perversely gentle approach. This is an immensely subtle film which forces the viewer to concentrate hard on what’s being said and not said, to scavenge for clues.

The acting is key. Many of those clues are microscopic and non-verbal, a slightly crestfallen look from Caroline, a blithe raised eyebrow from Tony, a tightening of the lips from Miche. There’s a lot of gorgeously interactive interplay, most particularly from Birkin and Bogarde, on whom much of the (in)action focuses.

Bogarde had had a stroke a couple of years before and perhaps that informs his performance, which is wistful and elegiac in the way he was in Death in Venice. But this was made nearly 20 years later. Broken veins and rheumy eyes add a layer.

So that’s what we have, a drama that’s about waiting for Tony to say… something, acknowledge his daughter. And watching Caroline getting her hopes up as she and he have yet one more conversation about the past, only for it to be – again – all about him, is what the show is all about. Wait for the scene where he talks about how his kids were all “mistakes” and then the universe waits for him to add something about those mistakes having all worked out for the best. He never does.

Though it’s a three-hander and set largely in the Cote d’Azur house of Tony and Miche, the micro focus means it would lose something if done on the stage. Tavernier also switches between interior and exterior, using this lovely house with a gorgeous sunny view almost as an extra character, keeping individual scenes short, to keep things dynamic. This is a film made by someone who really knows how to do it and in Bogarde, Birkin and Laure, Tavernier has three people who really know how to do it too.

Daddy Nostalgie – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

or as part of the Bertrand Tavernier 12 DVD box set (also including Captain Conan, A Sunday in the Country and L627)

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© Steve Morrissey 2023

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