Alain Moreau (Gérard Depardieu) is a cheesy yet likeable dance hall singer. A cynic might call him a low rent Sacha Distel, but Alain is quite content performing in third-rate nightclubs and old folk’s homes until he sees beautiful young estate agent Marion (Cécile De France) in the audience. Their one-night-stand turns sour the next morning when Marion, seemingly embarrassed and regretful, flees. A single mother with an unhappy past, Marion is cautious and untrusting but Alain uses house hunting as his excuse for their frequent meetings in empty homes. As Alain talks of his past and regrets, a tentative romance develops between the two. But Alain’s friend Bruno (Mathieu Almaric) is interested in Marion too…
A low-key charmer rather like its title character, The Singer is that rare thing: a genuinely touching, grown up love story that never resorts to cliché. May-December romances are sometimes shallow in mainstream movies, but French filmmakers have a knack for revealing hidden depths. Xavier Giannoli crafts a poetic ode to lost souls and broken dreams, where romance is celebrated in Alain’s campy love ballads that provide comfort against life’s disappointments: his failures as a star, Marion’s anxieties as a mother. The film is not perfect, meandering occasionally and at times rather vague. After a row in which Alain calls Marion “an easy lay”, suddenly it’s the next day and - voila! - they’re friends again.
Yet its strengths far outweigh such lapses. The interplay between Depardieu and De France is magical, both actors slipping into their characters with consummate ease, making the love story that much more compelling and believable. Giannoli has a keen eye for stolen glances, gestures and subtle nuances in his actors’ performances. Cécile De France keeps Marion pleasingly spiky, never quite ready to melt into Alain’s arms and stays far away from that “romantic comedy moment” wherein the girl traditionally realises ‘he’s the one.’ Mathieu Almaric excels as a credible rival, a decent guy able to laugh off their romantic predicament. The “what’s your porn star name?” scene between him and De France is a standout.
Gérard Depardieu essentially gives two performances. Onstage, crooning some vintage Euro lounge he captures the tragicomic pathos lurking beneath the cheesiest love ballad. L’Anamour and some Serge Gainsbourg numbers induced a - rather embarrassing - twinge of nostalgia in this reviewer and Depardieu’s sincerity might convince others they love them too (go on, admit it!). Off-stage, subdued and sad-eyed, Depardieu portrays a lonely man, yearning to unburden himself yet reluctant to venture beyond the world he knows: gaudy nightclubs, joyless restaurants and demeaning gigs for elderly patrons who barely listen. All brilliantly captured by Giannoli in excruciating detail, but this is not a satire. Giannoli appreciates the dance halls are just another area of life and Depardieu imbues Alain with fragile dignity.