Taxi driver Charles (Dany Boon) travels from one end of Paris, France to the other. 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, he takes people where they need to go. Each year he covers 3 times the circumference of the Earth (120,000 kms) yet has few memorable experiences from these years. But that’s about to change when he gets a call to pick up a certain elderly passenger, Madeleine.
Madeleine Keller (Line Renaud) is a woman who has seen a lot over her 92 years. Born just before the war and now in her advanced years, she is being forced by doctors into an assisted living facility. Cantankerous at first, her attitude clashes with the grumpy Charles on their journey. Despite his attempts to stonewall conversation, Madeleine begins to open up about her life. With one day of true freedom left, she intends to draw it out for as long as possible.
Soon, Charles grows fond of this fiery woman, becoming as invested in her story as she is from in telling it. From one side of Paris to the other, the story of Madeleine’s life unfolds. Her romances, her heartbreaks, and her darkest moments. No doubt, there are plenty of things this woman can teach Charles about enjoying life before it’s too late.
While a simple enough story, written and directed by Christian Carion, the film blends comedy with drama in a touching film of two strangers, memories, and perseverance. Having already directed the brilliant Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas), Carion has proven himself particularly adept at these kinds of moving, bitter-sweet stories.
The plot of Driving Madeleine plays out in dual timelines. Beginning with Madeleine being compelled to tell her story to the only person she has left who will listen. We flash back to a much younger woman (Alice Isaaz) and experience firsthand the crucial moments which helped shape her life.
It isn’t all rose tinted fond memories, however. Nor do we really see everything, as the movie is as much about the life we don’t see, to the parts that we do; her first kiss at 16, the taste of which she can still remember, her father’s execution at the hand of Nazis, her beloved son Mathieu, and her nightmare marriage to a bastard husband whose kisses she chooses to forget.
The lead actors perfectly encapsulate their roles in this film and Madeleine’s story takes such turns that we become just as engrossed as Charles. Boon for his part is someone we can empathise with; Charles has his problems but he’s forgotten how to look at life as Madeleine does.
The dual performances of the actors portraying Madeleine show two sides of the one woman. French screen legend Line Renaud is captivating with her silent dignity and timeless beauty. While it is something of a misnomer to say, Isaaz plays the “young Madeleine”. Being that she plays a woman through 20 years of a well lived life.
All of this is set against the stunning city of Paris as a backdrop. What begins as a short morning drive becomes a night-time affair as the city lights up. We see Charles begin to laugh as these characters bond so naturally. So much so, that it is impossible to not shed a tear when the inevitable time comes for these two characters to part ways.
Driving Madeleine may be a more sentimental film than I’m used to. It is in no way predictable however, pulling the rug out from under us more than once. A French road movie fuelled by premium nostalgia, Driving Madeleine features amazing performances and a heart-warming message driving the importance of creating memories worth remembering.