|Alfred (Artus de Penguern), on the left, meets his adopted “child,” Jules K. (Darry Cowl).|
L’Homme qui Rêvait d’un Enfant is a weird fairytale with plenty of charm, fine performances, visual appeal and a great score, but it just doesn’t make sense. Not that a film has to make sense, of course, but it needs to root its non-sense in a structure that allows us to suspend disbelief.
In Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, for example, we know we are not dealing with reality when a little girl enters an underground world full of fantastic creatures, but the story has an inner logic that L’Homme lacks.
This is how the plot goes: Alfred (Artus de Penguern) sells eggs at a stand in a French village’s outdoor food market. He is unable to speak to anyone except children and his mother (played by the adorable Esther Gorintin). He is in love with the beautiful Suzanne (Valérie Donzelli), who is inexplicably interested in this loser – Albert may be a very touching loser, but he’s still a loser.
She finally gets fed up with his inaction, however, and finds somebody else, so the lonely Alfred decides to adopt a child, someone he can “talk to all day long.” Before long, he receives notice that his adopted child, Jules K. (Darry Cowl), will soon arrive. At the train station, however, he finds not a baby by that name, but an old man who acts like a child and does not speak either.
Alfred is somewhat taken aback, but he takes Jules home and treats him like a child: bathing him, putting him to bed in the crib he has prepared, playing ball with him in the yard, etc. Great affection soon grows between them, but then Jules starts acting less like a baby: He goes out at night alone and brings Suzanne home to his bed (crib, that is).
All this is set against the backdrop of a missing father. We learn early on that Alfred stopped talking to people after he lost his father as a child. Every night he dreams of himself as a child on the beach with his father and mother (a Suzanne look-alike) in an idyllic world that grows nasty after Jules arrives in his life.
Improbabilities are heaped on improbabilities in this film. We can understand that for psychological reasons Alfred can speak to certain people and not to others, but not why any social services agency in the developed world would let this guy adopt a child, not to mention the fact that the child is not a child but an old man.
It’s all done with such great charm and gentle humor and in such pretty pastel shades and sepia tones that we want to accept the story, but the director/screenwriter Delphine Gleize just hasn’t found a way of making it all hang together and creating the right resonance between improbable situations. The ending makes no more sense than the rest. You leave the cinema touched but nonplussed.
The actors deserve great credit for pulling off their strange roles. Cowl, whose mournful expression brings Buster Keaton to mind, even manages to make the figure of an old man acting like a child seem natural and not too creepy.
For a quirky, funny and touching story of a friendship between two strange, lonely men, you would be better off finding a copy of Norwegian director Bent Hamer’s Kitchen Stories (2003). It, too, is highly improbable, but you believe every moment of it.
L’Homme’s delightful score was composed by French musician Arthur H. and is played by children from a music school.
© 2007 Paris Update
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