Driving Madeleine (Une belle course) Review – Line Renaud and Dany Boon Give Wonderful Performances in this Heart-Warming Drama

Harried Parisian taxi driver Charles (Dany Boon) is not having a good day. In fact he’s not having a good anything. He is tired of being stuck inside his taxi for hours on end and barely making a living. He is tired of missing out on life with his partner Karine (Julie Delarme) and their daughter Betty (Léonie Carion). He is tired of rude and demanding passengers, and he is particularly tired of having to call his successful brother for loans to pay off his mounting debts. When he gets a call to pick up an elderly passenger on the other side of Paris, he’s not keen to take the fare until the operator assures him he can turn his meter on from his start point.

His elderly passenger is Madeleine Keller (Line Renaud), a woman in her nineties who is finally moving out of her suburban home into a nursing facility. It’s not something she’s happy about but with no family to help her it is a sad inevitability. Madeleine is in no rush to reach the nursing home and encourages Charles to make many stops along the way so she can revisit the Paris of her youth – a youth that encompassed a great love and something far darker.

Madeleine with her piercing blue eyes and charming manner eventually breaks down Charles’ reticence to interact with her. What follows is Madeleine describing her life story replete with her triumphs and tragedies. Madeleine’s story is at times romantic and melodramatic, her falling in love with an American GI called Matt (Elie Kaempfen) at a dance and the taste of his kisses, like orange and honey. The romance, although earnest and intense, was interrupted when the war ended, and Matt returned to America leaving the young Madeleine (Alice Isaaz) with what she considered her greatest gift – her son Mathieu.

Madeleine’s nostalgia-tinged memories are juxtaposed with contemporary Paris. Where she once worked with her mother at a grand theatre is now a block of apartments. In the background we pass Notre Dame scaffolded for repairs after the fire. The face of Paris has changed. That change is something both welcome and unwelcome as Madeleine tells the darker side of her past – her marriage to the abusive Ray Haguenot (Jérémie Laheurte) who beat and raped her. Young Madeleine would stay in the relationship as there was no way to get a divorce in the 1950s for domestic assault. She would stay until Ray lashed out against her innocent son, “the bastard” Mathieu (Hadriel Roure). Once that happened Madeleine’s revenge against Ray was both brutal and deserved and saw her imprisoned for thirteen years.

For a story that starts out as two strangers getting to know each other it is a bit of tonal whiplash to see in flashback Madeline and Mathieu’s abuse. When it is interspersed with charming banter and burgeoning friendship between the elderly woman and the middle-aged man who has lost his sense of romance, it creates an odd fission which is further cemented by their seemingly carefree ride across the city. Madeleine and Charles stop to see sights that were important to her as a child and young woman. They stop at restaurants to eat. They delay the inevitable arrival at the nursing home as long as they can. The two narrative threads of the present and the past don’t gel as smoothly as they should with the past being such a bleak tale of loss and violence. Yet, the Madeleine in the taxi is filled with love and life and encourages Charles to rethink his priorities, something that he finds it hard to do while under economic pressure.

The third act is predictable and a little too neat. The film is ultimately wanting to embrace a feel-good conclusion that speaks to the power of the kindness of strangers and how one interaction can change the course of a life. It is a bit too pat but forgivable considering the wonderful performances by Line Renaud and Dany Boon. The warmth of their interactions is genuine. If the English title were a direct translation of the French title – A Good Journey it would be a more apt description of not only the drive across Paris but also the relationship formed between driver and passenger.

Driving Madeleine is for the most part a heart-warming drama but hiding behind that is a strong sense of how unfair the laws in France were regarding women and their rights. The feminist statement gives the film weight even if it seems a tad jarring in how it is delivered –

 the flashbacks are not sparing in their depiction of domestic violence and how it blighted Madeleine’s life. Madeleine at both ages is a survivor and a rebellious woman the world cannot emotionally imprison. Her story gives Charles the perspective he needs to emotionally change and proves that life can go on and be lived and a romantic heart can be resurrected.

Director: Chrisitan Carion

Cast: Line Renaud, Danny Boon, Alice Isaaz

Writer: Cyril Gely, Christian Carion

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

Liked it? Take a second to support The Curb on Patreon
Become a patron at Patreon!