The prodigal son returns to an uppity upper class home as Jerome (Mathieu Amalric) comes back to the family fold after many years away. During his self-imposed exile, he’s managed to acquire a small fortune in Shanghai and a Chinese fiancée to boot, though absence hasn’t made the heart grow fonder with respect to his now-deceased father. A high-stakes business deal calls him back to Europe, during which time Jerome’s corporate concerns are quickly usurped by familial ones in the shape of the ancestral home and old wounds are rapidly reopened.
Jerome must try and unravel the obfuscation surrounding the sale of the old mansion, whilst simultaneously hammering out complications in the London deal, juggling an increasingly irate fiancée and holding at arm’s length Louise (Marine Vacth), the moody eyelash-batter who allures from afar (and anear, for that matter). The storyline itself is a fairly conventional one – and therein lies one of the main downfalls of the picture. Nothing unexpected or unpredictable ever really manifests itself, lulling the audience into near-slumber with a series of non-events and unimportant dilemmas.
In fact, the more we understand the obstacles and complications which are hindering the sale of the ridiculously-proportioned house, the less we care about them. In a world where very real issues clamour for our attention on an hourly basis, the trivial problems and whiny complaints of a privileged upper class seem uninteresting at best and downright insulting at worst. Such stories may well have gone down a storm in the age of Proust or Flaubert, but in the 21st century they appear horribly outdated.
All of this could perhaps have been forgiven if the entire cast of characters weren’t such an insufferable bunch of bastards. The moral vacuity which dominates the film sucks everything and everyone into it, including a number of unexplored subplots, a failed attempt at comic relief in the shape of a fawning spinster and the last vestiges of any interest the audience might have had in the outcome of the whole escapade. One or two characters misplacing their moral compass adds intrigue and conflict; a complete ensemble of entitled, immature egotists becomes tiresome, to say the least.
On the plus side, the film is generally well put-together. The direction is proficient, the cinematography adept and the score well-paced, if a little evocative of The Last of the Summer Wine. For the most part, the acting is also commendable, with Amalric doing his level best to rescue the shaky script and the brooding Vacth playing the role of the naïve young debutante to a tee – indeed, the brief moments where she breaks out of Stella Artois-advert-chic to incongruous clumsiness are probably some of the film’s highlights.
However, any acclamation garnered by the technical aspects of the movie are completely shot to smithereens by the cringe-worthy denouement. Not only is it unbearably cloying and trite, the deeper implications of the story’s final message are troubling on several levels. Bring your toothbrush – you’ll need it to get rid of that unpalatable aftertaste.