Welcome Aboard (Bienvenue parmi nous)

France (2012) Dir. Jean Becker

Taillandier (Patrick Chesnais) is a painter in his sixties who suddenly stopped painting one day and has been unable to resume for over a decade. Irritable, tired and depressed Taillandier finds it hard to relate to or talk to anyone, especially his bossy wife Alice (Miou-Miou) and decides to end his life. Unable however to go through with it he drives around in the pouring rain where he picks up a teenage hitchhiker Marilou (Jeanne Lambert) who claims she has been kicked out of her home by her mother. Eventually settling in a small beach house near of a costal town Taillandier and Marilou gradually develop a father daughter relationship that allows each other to work through and confront their problems.

This conventional but rather charming tale comes from director Jean Becker, who has a fifty plus year career to his name yet his output is rather sporadic. The son of director Jacques Becker, Jean took up the family trade the year after his father died making his name with crime dramas and romantic mysteries. His most recent films have been light but heart warming tales, often revolving around unusual relationships, such as 2010’s My Afternoons With Margueritte. Suffice to say Welcome Aboard follows this formula to the letter providing an undemanding but nonetheless enjoyable yarn.

For reasons unknown to himself, Taillandier is fed up with life, the people around him, the way the world is moving and his own inability to paint. He can’t even be civil to his family on his birthday nor show the requisite gratitude for the holiday to Italy his son gave him as a present. Not only can he not understand his moods but Taillandier can’t even articulate this to his wife or friends. At the end of his tether Taillandier buys a hunting rifle then drives out to a secluded forest area ready to end it all but he can’t do it. Marilou meanwhile has been thrown out of her home by her mother (Sally Micaleff) who was fleeing from her abusive husband/Marilou’s stepfather (Boris Rehlinger) without a care for her daughter.

Both are angry at the world yet find complete resistance to each others irate outbursts by their mutual stubborn rages, although the senior Taillandier has the upper hand being able to rationalise his arguments a bit better. And so begins the road trip with the expected misunderstandings from hoteliers about the nature of their relationship when they admit to not being related. The initial frosty union sees some thawing when a snotty waiter at a restaurant talks down to Marilou, but resurfaces when they move into the beach house with Taillandier’s grumpy paternal instincts and habits clashing with Marilou’s teenage casualness and wild dress sense. A night out clubbing with some local lads ends in tears, Taillandier’s health takes a few scary turns and a nasty shock awaits Marilou but through it all the old man finds his artistic mojo again while Marilou learns a few life lessons along the way.

Story wise Becker doesn’t take many risks and one finds themselves almost waiting for the familiar scenarios to arrive – and we’re not disappointed. The too much make-up/slutty dress problem? Making a mess of the house? The over protective father role playing? They’re all here. But predictable as they are these scenes are played out with complete conviction and work well within the framework of this tale, serving as perfectly acceptable plot points to further the story and the developments of this mismatched relationship. The final act admittedly lays on the soap opera sentiment a little too thick at times rushing as it does to the tearful conclusion that manages to stay on the right side on schmaltzy.

Despite the 15 rating the BBFC have given this film there is really little to offend or upset here (unless the very brief scene of Taillandier with the rifle under his chin was deemed too contentious). The relationship between the two leads is strictly platonic slowly developing into a bond akin to (grand)father and child without teasing anything else, only in the suspicious minds of the people they encounter. With the laissez faire attitude towards matters sexual the French are noted for one could almost guarantee that there would be some sort of Lolita-esque teasing or at least some fan service for the male viewers (bearing in mind Marilou is just 15); thankfully – aside from Marilou is a figure hugging swimsuit – we are spared this instead allowing the feisty teen to act as the muse our lapsed artist needs to get sketching again.

The central leads are what drive this film lifting out of the realms of mediocrity, making the anodyne script into something quite engaging and believable, creating a very credible chemistry in the process. Patrick Chesnais gives an all to convincing turn as the curmudgeonly but disheartened painter, allowing himself free reign to moan and groan about the little things in life that no doubt annoy the rest of us. With this cathartic leeway exercised early, Chesnais is called upon to provide the emotional base of the film while his younger co-star is the energy.

In her debut role 19 year-old Jeanne Lambert has a look about her that suggest a slightly less gamine Audrey Tautou but with the promise of matching her talent. Lambert impresses not just with her vitality and great screen presence but with her emotional range which comes to the fore for the lachrymose finale. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the veteran Miou-Miou who gets very little screen time for someone of her calibre, meaning the role of Alice could have gone to anyone.

No new ground is broken in Welcome Aboard but that doesn’t make this any less valid entertainment for a Sunday afternoon or those wanting a quick fix for some French flavoured distraction to pass the time.