Synopsis: Objectively, Odette Toulemonde has nothing to be happy about, but is. Balthazar Balsan has everything to be happy about, but isn’t. Odette, awkwardly forty, with a delightful hairdresser son and a daughter bogged down in adolescence, spends her days behind the cosmetic’s counter in a department store and her nights sewing feathers on costumes for Parisian variety shows. She dreams of thanking Balthazar Balsan, her favorite author, to whom, she believes, she owes her optimism. The rich and charming Parisian writer then turns up in her life in an unexpected way. A tale about the comic encounter between atypical survivors with nothing in common.
It’s not always easy looking at the bright side of life, especially when there’s so much grey. But, armed with her favourite author’s life-affirming novels, Odette taps into her own personal fantasy world, keeping herself afloat in the worst of times.
Then she meets the author, a dejected man with a dry supply of hope and aspiration…
The age-defying Catherine Frot is perfectly cast as Odette; in fact, I can’t think of anyone who’d be better-suited. Right from the onset, when I saw the DVD at the local rental store months ago, I was drawn to ‘Odette Toulemonde’ because I felt the combo would be right.
I’ve seen Frot play some truly melodramatic stuff, and she does it well. But I got this sense that she could do perky, too. Maybe it’s her features, which have a slightly childlike quality about them, or maybe she simply impressed me as an actress. But I was convinced she could do it.
…even though all I knew about the film was the box art and its accompanying synopsis. Sometimes you can just feel it.
As is frequently the case with synopses or trailers, they sometimes skew things in a certain direction. In this case, it gave the impression of two polar opposites meeting each other, leaving us to discover if it was to be oil and water or peanut butter and chocolate.
But the film is not quite like that. The film is more about how one person can change the world of many and still not feel valued. It’s about how perception is everything, about appreciating the things we have and seeking the good in imperfect situations.
I relished that Odette found ways to appreciate her “mundane” life by having a vibrant interior one. Its onscreen manifestations were a real joy; watching her floating around and seeing her get lost in her fantasies was über fun, even charming.
(slight spoiler alert)
I found it heart-warming how the writer’s works made Odette happy (could she possibly love his books more?) and, in turn, she was able to bring happiness to his life. And then he brought his son to meet her to learn her ways.
This exchange spoke to the idealist side of me who thinks we can do better as a society, if only we cared for each other a little more. I also believe in the snowball effect of our actions, and in the “pay it forward” principle, but I liked that the author’s influence came full circle in his time of need.
I was a little uncertain as to why Odette was unable to do the same for her own family, however. Granted, her son relished life and appeared well-adjusted, but the family had its problems, and she sometimes had to escape them via her waking dreams.
Another strange element of the film is when her colleagues turned on her. I know that jealousy was at the heart of this sudden turn-around, but you’d think she would be so likeable and/or connected to them that no one would bear her any ill-will.
(spoiler alert over)
Thankfully it was just a blip on the radar (they didn’t wallow in it and turn it into a huge dramatic point like some films do), as were the short “musical” numbers (there was a more elaborate number that stretched my patience a little thin, however ).
In truth, I actually liked these small “musical” moments. All they were was Odette singing to herself (and sometimes dancing about the house) while doing chores. Um… like some of us do (minus the dancing, of course ). They were simply an expression of Odette’s escape from her troubles.
‘Odette Toulemonde’ is a delightful little film. It’s a slightly sappy and surreal treat that was almost everything I would have liked it to be. Even though it could have done a smidge better in the feel-good department, it was far better than what I’d read, which was only “okay”.