And so the “life-changing cab ride” sub-genre expands with Driving Madeleine, directed by Christian Carion and starring Line Renaud and Dany Boon. One likes to imagine this new film exists in the same universe as all of the rest. Somewhere in Atlanta, Morgan Freeman drives Jessica Tandy (Driving Miss Daisy) and gets a handle on prejudice. Meanwhile, Winona Ryder and Gene Rowlands (Night on Earth) have reunited in Los Angeles. Elsewhere in the City of Angels, Tom Cruise has just stepped into Jamie Foxx’s car (Collateral). Finally, in North Carolina, Souléymane Sy Savané and Red West (Goodbye Solo) carry on a gentle conversation.

Carion often trades in sentimentality (see his Joyeux Noël), and Driving Madeleine is as sentimental as it gets. Cab driver Charles (Boon) is in a bad situation. His marriage is strained, he has debts he cannot pay, and he’s one traffic stop away from losing his license. And then, a call from dispatch. A hefty fare is available all the way on the other side of Paris. Does he want to take it? The passenger’s name is Madeleine Keller (Renaud).

He agrees and we’re off to the races. Madeleine is a talkative sort, literally telling Charles her life story. There’s her first kiss, the tragic death of her father at the hand of the Nazis during World War II, and the American G.I. she fell in love with and then never saw again. His parting gift was her son, Mathieu. The final memory reveal is a hard truth from her past: a vicious crime of necessity, to emancipate her from an abusive marriage. Flashbacks accompany most of her recollections, and they are far and away the weakest part of the film.

This openness breaks free the guarded Charles, and soon enough the two become pals. If a viewer is to enjoy Driving Madeleine, it will be because of these two central performances. Both leads are respective legends in France, Renaud primarily as a singer and Boon primarily as a comedian. They make an impeccable duo here. Their back-and-forth is more than worth the price of admission. Renaud especially stands out. Her Madeleine has lived a full, fractured, painful life. And yet, she carries the weight of her 92 years with such grace. It’s all there on the screen and feels like its own kind of special effect.

Interstitial sequences suggest a celebration of Paris, a city that, not unlike Madeleine, has survived for better and worse. Carion is unabashed in his love for both the cabbie and his fare. That affection makes it easy for us to love them too.

Driving Madeleine is now in limited release.

Grade: B-

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