The famous French director Bertrand Tavernier has produced some remarkable films (Coup de Torchon and Life and Nothing But for example). A Sunday in the Country is considered by many to be among his best. My opinion is more tempered — if you’re in the mood for a minimalist family drama in the beautiful French countryside without much “drama” then it is worth seeing. The acting is on the whole quite good (especially Sabine Azema, a Tavernier regular, and Louis Ducreux). The film poignant conveys the melancholy airs and fears of old age and succeeds in recreating a scene which has played itself out at virtually every family reunion: the resurfacing of age old tensions, fathers favoring particular children, a father’s disappointments with their children (however minimal), and one’s own regrets at the end of life, etc. All in all, it failed to leave much of an impression on me (perhaps I’m a robot) despite its good heart and a liberal sprinkling of admirable qualities.
Brief Plot Summary
In the late 19th century, the elderly painter Monsieur Ladmiral (Louis Ducreux) lives at his country estate with a single servant. Occasionally, on a Sunday, Monsieur Ladmiral’s son Gonzague (Michel Aumont) visits with his wife Marie-Thérese (Genevieve Mnich) and two sons. The film revolves around one of these visits. We learn that Monsieur Ladmiral is somewhat disappointed with his son and favors his daughter, Irene (Sabine Azema) who infrequently visits. Gonzague deeply loves his father but is constantly bothered by what he perceives as unfair judgement.
The rifts show are exposed even more when Irene, unannounced, arrives at the estate in her new car. Monsieur Ladmiral adores his daughter and only wishes the best for her — he wants her to get married but dares not anger her (something he doesn’t mind doing with his son).
Just as unexpectedly as Irene arrives she leaves. And soon Gonzague and his family as well… Their whirlwind visit prompts Monsieur Ladmiral to reexamine his own life.
This film definitely has its charm. The acting is above average, some of the scenes are quite poignant, and the message is wonderful. Nothing is overdone or unnecessarily dramatized. Likewise, the undercurrents of strife in the family (and the interactions of the various members) are not meant to drive to plot (nor are they exactly explained) but are instead constructed to illustrate the archetypal interactions of a normal family. Tavernier succeeds in constructing a beautiful, worthwhile, and meaningful film. I’m just not sure it’s as good or memorable as his other works…