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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Line Renaud is a much-loved French singer and actor whose life spans most of the last century. Casting her in a leading role at 93 must have posed some challenges, but Driving Madeleine is constructed to fit around her, rather than the other way around.
This is an encounter between old Paris and new Paris, and the way women’s lives have changed. Renaud and Boon make a delightful couple, and lovers of Paris will be thrilled as the cab passes various famous landmarks and drives down lesser-known suburban streets.
Charles (Boon) is offered a ‘plum fare’ by the dispatcher. Charles is middle-aged and in debt, which makes him even grumpier than the average Paris cabbie.
Madeleine asks Charles to take her to the other side of Paris. At this stage, he is frustrated with the old biddy, but he needs the extra money. Fairly soon, she asks him to visit more places off their route. This trip has a significance we do not yet understand. The director, Christian Carion, grew up in Cambrai, in the middle of the old western front of World War I. In this movie, Line Renaud brings that sense of history, both in the character she plays and the way she plays it.
Renaud was a popular singer, from late in World War II. She made a number of movies in the 1950s, then dropped out of film for almost 30 years. She returned in the late 1980s in a string of successful comedies, building a whole new audience, and making more than 20 films in the last 35 years. Boon has directed her in two films, in 2006 and 2008.
Madeleine’s story has many twists, going to a dark place. Renaud plays her as a survivor; someone who learned to endure. Her warmth is utterly irresistible, thawing the disconsolate Charles. She becomes his guide so that we wonder finally who’s driving whom.