Hollywood may be shortchanging the adult audience, but the rest of the world has not followed suit. "The Little Bedroom," an unheralded film from Switzerland, is a small-scale gem of a movie, both dramatically aware and psychologically astute.
Starring 89-year-old master French actor Michel Bouquet ("Renoir," "How I Killed My Father") in what might well be his final leading role, "Bedroom" deals with the melancholy of different kinds of loss. Powerfully but delicately acted, the film concerns itself with the necessity as well as the limits of human connection as it introduces two individuals who find themselves at different, equally painful crossroads.
"It's only a visit, it doesn't commit you to anything" is the film's opening line, but it's enough to tell us that nervous middle-aged son Jacques (Joël Delsaut), who is about to move to Chicago, is taking his father, Edmond (Bouquet), on a trial visit to a nursing home.
Biting, irascible eightysomething Edmond is not going quietly, far from it. When his son tells him the move to the U.S. will be in September, Edmund snaps back, "I'll try and die in August so you can come to my funeral." And when they arrive at the facility, Edmond promptly locks himself in the car so he can listen to his beloved classical music uninterrupted.
The next day, back at the apartment he shares with his son, Edmond gets his first look at Rose (Florence Loiret Caille), the home care nurse newly assigned to his case. That meeting does not go well either.
Edmond icily addresses Rose as "Madame Nurse," resists her attempt to give him his diabetes shot with a brusque "I can do it myself" and sums up, as if he needed to, "don't tell me life is wonderful." Rose says nothing, but we can sense that her life is anything but.
Rose is married to Marc (Éric Caravaca), but their relationship has been under enormous strain. The couple, we soon discover, suffered through the tragedy of a stillborn child six months earlier, and neither one of them has been able to recover their footing.
Especially distraught is Rose, who refuses to let the baby's room — the little bedroom of the title — be touched, even keeping the baby clothes freshly laundered and folded. Caille is especially good at conveying Rose's beside-herself pain and despair.
While Rose has just returned to work — Edmond, who hates the thought of leaving the home he loves, is her first client — Web designer Marc has been collaborating with a partner, and they are close to landing the big energy drink contract they desperately need. But getting it means going to New York to make a presentation, and though the trip is essential, Marc fears leaving Rose at such a fraught time.
"The Little Bedroom" is the first feature for the Swiss writing and directing team of Stéphanie Chuat & Véronique Reymond, but you would never know it from the assurance they display here.
Friends since they were 15 and former actresses themselves, Chuat and Reymond have a thorough understanding of character development. Aided by magnificent but restrained performances by the veteran Bouquet and the younger Caille, their protagonists couldn't be more realistically conveyed.
Just as important is the unforced and carefully controlled way "The Little Bedroom's" plot unfolds. Circumstances will gradually create a complicity between Edmond and Rose, two people who are unknowingly desperate for essential solidarity.
Because filmmakers Chuat and Reymond have a gift for the subtle nuances of personality, it is this economical film's strength that while that relationship may sound schematic, in practice it persuasively develops into a bond we can believe in.
Though this wary connection neither Edmond nor Rose anticipates grows up and takes a kind of hold of them, "The Little Bedroom" is far too sophisticated to imagine it will solve everyone's problems in a classically sentimental movie way. Some things can be made better, but others cannot, and this deft film not only understands the difference between healing and simply helping but also honors it.
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'The Little Bedroom'
No MPAA rating
Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills; Town Center, Encino; Playhouse, Pasadena.