A lively rapport between the regal Catherine Deneuve and the gentle-bearish Gustave Kervern lends warmth and charm to this tragicomedy of Paris tenement life. She is Mathilde, living on the top floor, recently retired and so unsure of what to do with herself that her husband Serge (Feodor Atkine) is concerned for her sanity. When they interview Antoine (Kervern) for the position of building custodian, Serge is unimpressed by his lack of focus or prior qualifications, but Mathilde considers he’d make a refreshing change and Serge gives in.
They are both right. As a custodian Antoine is rubbish: he turns a blind eye to courtyard comings and goings that outrage the more law-abiding residents. But he becomes friend and confidant to the anxious Mathilde, and she to him. Best known for pacey comedies, director Pierre Salvadori brings his light touch to more substantial themes here.
“Now in her eighth decade, Deneuve’s late-career evolution into France’s most glamorous character actress continues apace… In the Courtyard makes a poignant virtue of the contrast between the actress’s lioness-like physical presence and the modest stature of her careworn character; it’s the network of worry lines in that marvellous face, as much as its enduring beauty, that interests Salvadori and cinematographer Gilles Henry. Also playing against type, in a sense, is Kervern, a name associated with more manically eccentric comedy than this kind of soft-shoe diversion. As such, he brings a necessary frisson of danger to a story that suggests the capacity for madness in even the most staid of lives.” — Guy Lodge, Variety