Mid-life crisis is the theme for Jean Becker’s whimsical 2012 film Bienvenue Parmi Nous aka Welcome Aboard. Tracing the breakdown and rehabilitation of a talented artist unable any longer to paint, this is very much the type of film to file under the heading ‘heart-warming.’
On the surface irascible Monsieur Tailander (Patrick Chesnais) has all a man could want i.e. a beautiful wife, loving family and a comfortable home. But it’s not enough. For reasons the audience is not privy to the artist is far from content. He snaps at his family and rather than paint prefers to spend his time in front of the television.
Like Antonio in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, Tailander’s melancholy seems to have no explanation. Inevitably it soon comes to a head. Craggy faced Tailander attempt to blow his brains out one stormy night only to lose his nerve. What makes this scenario even more perplexing is the knowledge that the artist appears to have no control over his descent into this dark tunnel.
Having decided the only way out is to run away from his former life, Tailander picks up another runaway in the delectable form of Marylou (Jeanne Lambert). Baring an uncanny resemblance to Isabella Adjani, and with her options severely limited, the 15-year-old teams up with the older man. She needs him and he, though begrudgingly of course, comes to accept he needs her.
The odd couple rent a house, go shopping together and start to live as father and daughter. It’s not easy and there are plenty of moments when the relationship teeters, but compromise is the order of the day. Invigorated by the arrival into his life of this stunningly beautiful but fragile teenager, Tailander is able to overcome his artistic impotence, naturally.
It's all rather sweet and innocent. Although the curvaceous, young goddess he sketches on the beach in her swim costume resembles something akin to the ultimate male fantasy, not for one moment is there even the mildest suggestion of any sexual frisson in this movie. Tailander’s interest in this fragile girl is purely paternal. It is only the artist's easel that rises to the occasion. Soon enough he is playing the role of protective father, vetting boyfriends and even rescuing her from potential rape.
As heart-warming as this relationship is, the lack of sexual tension does mean it doesn’t have far to go in terms of development. Voluptuous waif and craggy grandfather quickly learn to live together in harmony, each fulfilling a need in the other: stability for her, and for him? It’s never really clear what exactly Tailander gains from the relationship apart from being stimulated to pick up his sketch pad again.
And so, as might be expected, it all ends well. Tailander returns home a changed man: he's become a vegetarian! He and a very forgiving wife foster Marylou who is eventually reunited with the mother forced to abandon her. Tears flow as the girl bids adieu to her surrogate father, a parting that might send some looking for the Kleenexes.
There’s a nice moment when halfway through the movie, the viewer sees Marylou watching who but Mme. Adjani on the tv screen. Peas in a pod, if you too adore Isabella (and let’s face who amongst who doesn’t?) then it’s a good bet you’ll also be transfixed by Ms Lambert.
As for the movie itself, overall it is a charming little piece, if one that does at times rely heavily on cliché and sentimentalism. It’s a little far-fetched perhaps, but hey it’s just a film. Bienvenue Parmi Nous is the type of escapism perfect for a rainy Sunday afternoon. So, why not?