A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Two men meet late in life. One is a retired literature teacher. The other is a bank robber. Both are approaching a rendezvous with destiny. By chance, they spend some time together. Each begins to wish he could have lived the other's life.
From this simple premise, Patrice Leconte has made one of his most elegant films. It proceeds as if completely by accident and yet foreordained, and the two men--who come from such different worlds--get along well because both have the instinctive reticence and tact of born gentlemen. When the robber asks the teacher if he can borrow a pair of slippers, we get a glimpse of the gulf that separates them: He wants them, not because he needs them, but because, well, he has never worn a pair of slippers.
The teacher is played by Jean Rochefort, 73, tall, slender, courtly. It tells you all you need to know that he was once cast to play Don Quixote. The robber is played by Johnny Hallyday, 59, a French rock legend, who wears a fringed black leather jacket and travels with three handguns in his valise. This casting would have a divine incongruity for a French audience. In American terms, think of James Stewart and Johnny Cash.
Leconte is a director who makes very specific films, usually with an undertone of comedy, about characters who are one of a kind. His "Hairdresser's Husband," which also starred Rochefort, was about a man who loved to watch women cut hair. His "Girl on the Bridge" was about a sideshow knife-thrower. His "The Widow of St. Pierre" was about a 19th century community on a Canadian fishing island that comes to love a man condemned to death. His "Ridicule" was about an 18th century provincial who has an ecological scheme, and is told that the king favors those who can make him laugh. His "Monsieur Hire" was about a meek little man who spies on a woman, who sees him spying, and boldly challenges him to make his move.