Movie Review: Ill, on the road and making amends — “Ulysses & Mona”

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Here’s a French road dramedy that points us in one direction, turns in another and finds a little heart and charm, almost in spite of itself, along the way.

“Ulysses & Mona” is about a pretty art student, Mona (Manal Issa) who is “tired of naked men (artist models), bowls of fruit and Byzantine mosaics.” She wants inspiration, mentoring.

The celebrated artist Ulysses might fill that bill. He retired from painting some years back, but he’s put some symbolic conceptual pieces (him, in an African mask, posing in a plastic bubble) up on the Internet.

Let’s see if he’ll be my mentor!

She tracks Ulysses (Eric Cantona) down at a remote estate, living alone with his dog, playing tennis against himself, pestered by an inquisitive neighbor boy (Mathis Romani). What Mona doesn’t know is that Ulysses has lost his wife, disconnected from his family and shut off the world.

“I admire your work” isn’t going to change that.

Mona is not used to being put off (see “pretty art student” reference above). She dons her cutest tennis skirt and shows up with a racket. No match today. She finds him bloodied, lying on the court, knocked out by his tennis ball machine.

Rushing him to the hospital changes everything. That’s where he gets the x-ray that tells him he has a brain tumor. That’s where he decides he has use of “an assistant.” That’s when he talks her into joining him on the road, helping with the driving, documenting what she sees.

Mona’s art takes a back seat in the old Volvo they travel in as Ulysses visits and connects with those he’s estranged from. She picks up on how this is a “farewell” trip, and takes on a new role — calming troubled waters, prodding those he’s hurt into giving him a last chance. She helps the grumpy artist soften, just a smidge.

It’s only occasionally cute and rarely unpredictable. And despite the film’s scenic format and brevity, none of it feels of much consequence. Losing the “art” thread was a poor choice on er-director Sébastien Betbeder’s part.

But a few standout moments stick with you and the afterglow is warm. You won’t mind spending time with “Ulysses & Mona,” even cooped up in a car.

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MPAA Rating: unrated

Cast: Manal Issa, Eric Cantona, Mathis Romani

Credits: Written and directed by Sébastien Betbeder. A Film Movement Plus release.

Running time: 1:22

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