Christian Carion’s Driving Madeleine delivers an important, heartening message about how often we forget the power of empathy in everyday human encounters.
Driving Madeleine presents itself as a wonderful little Parisian vignette of two lives unexpectedly crossing paths, creating a chain of heartwarming but bittersweet moments of finding one’s way back to kindness. Those moments amount to a ninety-minute journey worth experiencing for anyone seeking beauty in the little things.
The two lives in question are the lives of Charles (Dany Boon), a grumpy taxi driver who has succumbed to the monotony of his job and the hardships of supporting his family, and Madeleine (Line Renaud), an elderly woman not entirely ready to enter a nursing home before she has given her turbulent life a proper send-off. Soon after Charles picks up Madeleine as his next fare, it becomes clear that this trip through the city will become more memorable than either of them anticipated.
The two leads give life to every word of their dialogue and their performances. Burdened by the responsibility of holding the human essence of the film, they seem to carry that duty with such lightness and grace that it is a joy to watch. Their relaxed chemistry makes the film’s message more digestible and predisposes for a more open-hearted exchange with the audience.
Driving Madeleine reminds viewers of the power of empathy and the power that cinema has to evoke it, even with such straightforward storytelling. You don’t need to be constantly overstimulated to recognize the significance and universality of Charles and Madeleine’s simple conversations. You don’t need a high-stakes drama to be invested;, you need characters crafted with care.
Predictability is something Driving Madeleine never manages to escape. An intimate drama of this caliber provides nothing new under the genre, even down to the individual beats, but it tugs at your heartstrings the way it knows how to, promising you an emotional ride.
The screenplay by Christian Carion and Cyril Gely might follow an already mapped-out blueprint, but it doesn’t feel orchestrated to simulate a response. It leaves you with the feeling that the writers channeled a painfully realistic palette of emotions, inevitably present at the particular stages of a person’s life that come with aging. Unlike people, the powerful ideas encapsulated on the pages of the script will never grow old.
Carion’s direction and Pierre Cottereau’s camerawork do not distract from the story as the film’s main (and almost only) focus. A more distinct visual style only shows up in the flashbacks, which feel more artistic, as if to signify the beauty Madeleine sees when she reminisces over her past.
On board that train of thought, Driving Madeleine could’ve made more of those interesting decisions. The moment when the film transgresses time and space with the symbolic shot of the younger and older versions of Madeleine meeting in the car, those are the moments I wish I could’ve seen more of. Although it makes use of what it has to get its points across, the film could be critiqued for not making more of its rich resources and potential in order to carve out a less forgettable, more distinctive style for itself. The credits rolled in the blink of an eye, leaving me wishing this profound story was enveloped in more imaginative packaging.
Even so, no single frame or line in Driving Madeleine lets you forget that there is an entire universe living in every cab driver, every passenger, and every name on every gravestone. Christian Carion’s movie is a worthwhile testament and a reminder to tread the world always keeping that in mind.
Driving Madeleine will be released in US theaters on January 12, 2024.