‘Driving Madeleine’, a French road movie charmer that takes some dark detours

Cab buddies: Line Renaud and Dany Boon in ‘Driving Madeleine’.

DRIVING MADELEINE (Une Belle Course) ***1/2 (91 minutes; subtitled) MA
Joining the long queue of quality films in which cabs have played a central role comes Driving Madeleine, an unassuming little French number from director Christian Carion (Joyeux Noel; L’Affaire Farewell) about a deceptively straightforward taxi fare that takes a lot of detours, some of them quite dark.

Drowning in debt and domestic worry with his license one traffic stop from cancellation, middle-aged Charles (Dany Boon) lands a job picking up Madeleine (Line Renaud), an old woman who, it emerges, has one destination in life left to travel.

It’s a juicy gig for Charles that will take him across a very busy Paris, the great news being that he can start the meter as soon as he gets the job.

Fronting up at her large house Charles ushers the 92-year-old into the cab, thinking it is just another fare. Yet some wily shots of Madeleine looking at her home signals to us that this might be her last look at a home she’s spent much of her life in, and that there might be more to the ride than a mere drive across town.

Unavoidably the two get to chatting and, inevitably, Charles begins warming to his charge as she begins unfurling her eventful life, told in lengthy flashbacks that recount her troubled domestic life after the war.

What starts out as a charming two-hander ends up as a charming tear jerker with a tragic tinge as the strict deadline for Madeleine’s arrival at her destination becomes increasingly irrelevant. So, too, does Charles’ hunger for a big tip as he finds himself invested in Madeleine during their stops for dinner and ice cream.

With few exceptions, road trips in movies – and Driving Madeleine qualifies as a road movie – serve as metaphors for personal transformation, the physical journey symbolizing a deeper one for the passengers.

Here we see the effects a chance meeting can have when people from different generations share their stories and care about what they’re hearing.

The dynamics at work in Driving Madeleine are simple enough and have been seen many times before, fueling such ride-themed films as Night on Earth, Last Cab to Darwin, Driving Miss Daisy (of course) and Drive My Car (might as well include Collateral for good measure).

What distinguishes this effort is just how mellifluously Carion blends the two worlds that meet within the cab and how traversing some tough terrain together takes both parties to a place they couldn’t have found without finding each other.

It’s really touching stuff, aided no end by the warm performances from the two French veterans at the heart of the ride.