Sunday, November 18, 2018

Film Recommendation: The Student and Mr. Henri (2015)

The 2015 French comedy-drama L'étudiante et Monsieur Henri (translation: The Student and Mr. Henri) centers on a college student, Constance (Noémie Schmidt), who is having trouble figuring out what she wants to do with her life.  She is failing at school because she panics whenever she has to take an exam.  She wants to be studying music, but her father has pressured her to pursue a business degree.

Constance needs to find a place to live and sees an ad for a room to rent in a conveniently located apartment building.  Paul (Guillaume de Tonquédec), who placed the ad, explains to Constance that his elderly father Henri (Claude Brasseur) presently lives alone in the apartment.  He is concerned that his father can no longer care for himself and he is willing to let Constance live in the apartment for a low fee if she can help to look after the old man.  The problem is that Henri prefers to live on his own.  When Constance turns up to see the room, he demands that she go away and slams the door in her face.


But Constance is persistent and wears down Henri's resistance. Henri allows the young woman inside the apartment to see the room.  But he still has a few tricks up his sleeves to scare off his prospective tenant.  At one point, he informs her that the apartment has no hot water.  Constance quickly sees through the lie.  She turns on the water in the bathroom sink and confirms that the water is hot. 

In the end, the surly man consents to let Constance have the room on the condition that she follows his many house rules ("A community requires rules," he says).  But then, after she breaks one of the rules, he tells her that he can longer trust her and she has to leave.

She pleads with him.  "I can help you out a lot," she says.  He thinks about it and comes up with a solution.  He can see that Constance is exceptionally attractive and imagines it would be very easy for her to turn a man's head.  If she can get her son's interest, he thinks, his son might be willing to leave his wife, who Henri regards as an insufferable idiot.  Constance is shocked by the proposal.  The following discussion of the matter ensues:
CONSTANCE: I'm not a whore.

HENRI: It's not that!  Just show my son new horizons.

CONSTANCE: I can't break up a marriage.

HENRI: It's a sort of test.  Set his head spinning a little.  Either he gently rejects you, proving his marriage is solid, or. . . It's best if it ends fast.

CONSTANCE: A man can sleep with me and keep his wife.

HENRI: A normal man, yes.  But my son is extremely inhibited.  He's had no other women apart from Valerie.  He thinks he can't do better than her.  The thing is, if a pretty girl like you finds him attractive. . .

CONSTANCE: What if it goes wrong?

HENRI: My son has many flaws, but he's a gentleman.
The seduction plot, though important to story, never dominates the film, and it never gets sordid (Paul is truly a gentleman).


The film is really about the ways that the insecure young lady and the grumpy old man make each other better people.  In the end, she becomes more self-assured and he becomes more humane.

The film is carried along gracefully by the charming performances of its leads.  Schmidt's performance as Constance earned her a nomination for the César Award for Most Promising Actress, and won her the Prix Premiers Rendez-vous (Best Newcomer) at the 2016 Cabourg Film Festival.  The actress can currently be seen in the television series Versailles.

Brasseur has been acting in films since 1960, when he played an inspector in Eyes Without a Face.  Here is a photo of the actor in the 1975 revenge thriller L'Agression.

No comments:

Post a Comment