Wednesday November 15, 1995
In Laurent Heynemann's delightful yet acerbic and exceedingly wise "The Old Lady Who Walked in the Sea," Jeanne Moreau looms into view like a galleon at full mast, strolling slowly in the surf, not in a bathing suit but in dramatic attire and a big hat.
Moreau's Lady M, who walks with a cane, is trying to soothe her arthritic hip, but the brazen glamour of her exaggerated wardrobe, jewels and wigs proclaims loudly her defiance of age. Moreau has the appearance and demeanor of a woman who has unapologetically lived a life of pleasure, and her fading beauty is perfect for playing Lady M.
The setting is Guadeloupe, and Lady M and her dapper, silver-haired companion, Pompilius (Michel Serrault), seem a rich retired couple on vacation. Rich they are, but we're genuinely surprised when we soon discover that Lady M, in partnership with Pompilius, is a world-class con artist whose entire life has been given over to grand affairs and great capers. She's not about to give up either, and when she discovers Lambert (Luc Thuillier), a handsome beach boy--and petty thief--she devises to engage him in both.
After these three have returned to Lady M's fabulous mansion on the Riviera, it becomes clear that we're watching "Sunset Boulevard on the Grand Corniche"--but with a crucial difference: Lady M is a tough-minded realist, not a crazed Norma Desmond. Pompilius may have been a long-ago lover, but he's no Max Mayerling, encouraging any self-delusion in Lady M. To the contrary, these two trade insults with aplomb. However, Lady M is falling in love with Lambert against her better judgment.
The film's jewel-heist plot is but a device to develop the relationship between Lady M and Lambert. This in turn allows Moreau to work her magic. The way in which Lady M has been written and played so mesmerizingly by Moreau is to reveal her as a woman who has not merely lived by her very sharp wits but also according to her own code.
Lady M is a great star part for Moreau, who receives deftly underplayed support from Serrault and Thuillier. More comedy of manners than romantic comedy, "The Old Lady Who Walked in the Sea" skirts neither the remorselessness of aging nor the cruelty it can sow, but it leaves us admiring Lady M.
The Old Lady Who Walked in the Sea, 1995. Unrated. A CFP Distribution release of a co-production of Blue Dahlia, Societe Financiere de Coproduction, Films A2, Little Bear and J.M. Productions. Director Laurent Heynemann. Screenplay by Dominique Roulet. Adaptation from the novel by San Antonio by Roulet and Heynemann. Cinematographer Robert Alazraki. Editor Jacques Comets. Costumes Catherine Leterrier. Music Philippe Sarde. Set decorator Valerie Grail. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. Jeanne Moreau as Lady M. Michel Serrault as Pompilius. Luc Thuillier as Lambert. Geraldine Danon as Noemie.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun