THE GILDED CAGE (M, subtitled)
Just how long is time enough to feel settled in the country you've made your new home? It all depends. Some people never seem to settle. This playful, charming French comedy of manners, co-written and directed by Ruben Alves and dedicated to his parents, weighs in on a tricky issue, and manages to leave everyone with a smile on their face.
An amiable, hard-working Portuguese couple, Maria (Rita Blanco) and Jose (Joaquim de Almeida) have been residents of Paris for more than 30 years and are well embedded in their community. Yet they still feel nostalgia for the land of their youth, even though they left the political upheavals of the 1970s and a family feud behind them.
Their adult daughter Paula (Barbara Cabrita) and student son Pedro (Alex Alves Pereira) are virtually French. They've no experience of their parents' homeland except but understand it can be the butt of endless jokes about dried cod, and that their background might be something to keep quiet about. Particularly when issues of class enter the mix.
As a concierge and construction foreman, Maria and Jose are dedicated to their responsibilities to a fault. It's hard to imagine either of them joining feisty French workers in red berets and taking to the streets to protest about work pay and conditions. Their lives are never their own, while imperious elderly landladies feel free to ask them to fix the plumbing at 10 at night and bosses expect them to work weekends.
When word gets out that Jose has come into a large inheritance, a glorious house and wine business perched on hillside outside Porto, everyone, including their friends and relatives in the Portuguese community, tries to make it impossible for the couple to leave. It is laid on so thick that even Jose's boss Francis (Roland Giraud) seems delighted to learn that his son Charles is in a serious relationship with Jose's daughter. This announcement is followed by a deliciously comic dinner party in which Maria and Jose dress up to entertain Francis and his wife who arrived dressed down, as cultures and class collide.
This is a cross-cultural comedy that offers many stories in one, with Maria and Jose the starting point. In the early stages, I was a bit resistant to the style but Alves' touch is light, and as the characters moved out from behind their stock standard masks and the elements of farce became really funny, it grew on me. How things are ultimately resolved in this elegantly timed comedy with its pitch perfect ensemble cast remains a guessing game to the end.