Love, angst, family relationships and weddings all come under the droll, melancholic scrutiny of Adrien, in Laurent Tirard’s The Speech (Le discours). Clever and compassionate, the film is based on Fabrice Caro’s novel by the same name, and Tirard makes excellent use of cinema to convey the musings, longings, and anxieties of 30-something Adrien’s incredibly self-absorbed soul with playful, creative staging. Benjamin Lavernhe from La Comédie Française is wonderfully charming as Adrien, and spending 88 minutes inside this character’s neurotic imagination is pure pleasure.
The entire film takes place over the course of a family dinner, at the home of Adrien’s mother (Guilaine Londez) and father (François Morel), with his sister Sophie (Julia Piaton) and her fiancé Ludo (Kyan Khojandi). Yet in parallel to the dinner table conversation, Adrien narrates his commentary on the gathering, as well as his memories and worries over his current crisis. Breaking the fourth wall with ease, Adrien addresses the viewer directly, establishing a sense of intimacy and eliciting the viewer’s empathy for his predicament.
Adrien’s plight is two-fold. 38 days ago, his girlfriend Sonia (Sara Giraudeau) told him that she needs a break, and he has not heard from her since. Just before going to dinner, he decides to risk sending her a text. Now he must anxiously wait to see if she will respond. He’s never even introduced her to his family, so they are blissfully unaware of his heartache, and the dinner follows its usual, predictable path.
Anyone who has ever experienced a family gathering will recognize familiar tropes – the same stories told over and over again, the subtle or less subtle pressure to couple up – and Lavernhe infuses them all with mixture of detached cynicism, melancholy, and affection. But soon enough, there comes a twist: his soon-to-be-brother-in-law Ludo asks Adrien to make a speech at the wedding. For Adrien, who defense mechanism of choice is distancing himself and avoiding excessive interaction with family members, this constitutes a crisis. Making a public speech at the wedding is about the last thing Adrien would want to do.
Adrien’s anxiety sends him on many a fanciful tangent, and he imagines different speeches he might make – from wild success to total humiliation, and various events that might let him escape this cruel fate, he also reflects on his relationships with Sonia and his family. As self-absorbed as Adrien may be, there is a sincerity to his love for the absent Sonia and his bewilderment over relationships with his sister and parents that have grown distant over the years. Tirard, who also wrote the screenplay, strikes just the right note with Adrien’s ongoing commentary, imaginings, and musings. Never relinquishing authenticity for the sake of comedy, there is an undercurrent of warmth and genuine desire for acceptance and connection beneath Adrien’s self-centered obsession that makes this viewer at least, want to root for him.
The Speech (Le discours)
France/2020/87 min/French with Hebrew and English subtitles
Written and directed by Laurent Tirard based on the novel by Fabrice Caro; Cinematography: Emmanuelle Soyer; Editing: Valérie Deseine; Cast: Benjamin Lavernhe from La Comédie Française, Sara Giraudeau, Kyan Khojandi, Julia Piaton, Guilaine Londez; François Morel