Pio Marmaï and Jérémie Elkaïm in Nicolas Mercier’s “Grand Départ.” | RIALTO PREMIERES
BY GARY M. KRAMER | In the pre-credit sequence of “Grand Départ,” Romain (Pio Marmaï) explains that while he is hard working in his career, his personal life is a mess. He feels he is way behind his friends in meeting the right girl and starting a family, and he and his gay older brother, Luc (Jérémie Elkaïm), have never understood each other. When we see Romain bored listening to Wagner while Luc swoons, it may be a formulaic way to emphasize that the older brother is gay but it does confirm their odd-couple differences.
This small but touching film depicts how the brothers cope when their father, Georges (Eddy Mitchell), develops Lewy body dementia, a disorder not unlike Alzheimer’s.
In “Grand Départ,” it is the straight brother who, though financially successful, is uncomfortable with himself — screwing up at work, in his romantic encounters, with his friends, and with his family — and needs to grow up and find himself. Luc, in contrast, has a boyfriend, Adrian (Willy Cartier), a job as a screenwriter, and a big group of friends and is his father’s favorite. That it is Romain who feels persecuted by life is a nice twist the film mines for comedy.
Nicolas Mercier’s French comedy probes the trials of the straight prodigal son
Though anxious to make a good impression at work, he falls asleep at his desk. As godfather to a friend’s baby, Romain embarrasses himself at the baptism vomiting on a child, and he is no more adept at handling the trouble that ensues when his father attacks another resident in his nursing home. After meeting the striking Séréna (Zoé Félix) at one of Luc’s parties, Romain is warned off by his brother, who insists she is out of his league. Still, after an erotic dream about her, Romain launches a fumbling effort to court her.
Through a series of personal and professional crises, we see how an uptight Romain falls apart and, in time, finds himself. Surrounded by people who are happier than he is, Romain suffers, but it’s impossible to escape the conclusion that he would be more sympathetic if he were not such a boob. Except with women, Romain carries himself with a superior air, and his sense of entitlement gets him into trouble. Only by being humbled can he get ahead.
In Romain’s eyes, Luc is a threat, and disagreement over how to medicate their father divides the brothers. When during a family lunch a forgetful Georges asks Luc about his love life, Romain is all too happy to corner his older brother into having to come out again, willing to do what he must to become the favorite son. On that score, however, Romaine gets a reality check when he takes Georges out to a McDonald’s and gets an earful he does not expect. It may be the film’s most affecting moment.
It is the stress of multiple pressures that has Romain coming unglued. At a costume party, he is acting inappropriately until a distress call from Luc, who needs fast cash, interrupts his silly antics. In helping out Luc, Romain learns something unsavory about his golden boy older brother, something also true about his father. That Georges confided his sins only to Luc irks Romain, but he eagerly seizes the moral high ground. He also begins to see that people are more complicated that he thought.
Even if Romain is not Georges’ favorite, the younger son’s attention to his father — taking him out for nightly walks to keep him out of trouble at his nursing home — offers some sensitive moments between the two. Even if the film glosses over some of the most important issues in their relationship, we do see them bond.
The handsome Marmaï is alternately affable and smug as Romain and manages to make his transformation over the course of the film credible. Elkaïm, who may be most famous to queer viewers from his role as the gay teen in Sébastien Lifshitz’s 2000 “Come Undone,” has less to do as Luc, but creates a winning character who is likable even when he misbehaves.
“Grand Départ” may feel a bit made-for-TV, but its heart is in the right place.
GRAND DÉPART | Directed by Nicolas Mercier | In French, with English subtitles | Rialto Premieres | Opens May 23 | Village East | 189 Second Ave. at 12th St. | villageeastcinema.com