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The English composer Stephen Warbeck won an Oscar for his work on Shakespeare in Love, but has never directed a film before. He makes his writer-director debut, in collaboration with John-Paul Davidson (director of various Michael Palin and Stephen Fry-fronted travelogues) on this whimsical road movie that has little dialogue but plenty of music. Ciarán Hinds stars as the titular hat-wearer, who we meet dining on razor clams and rosé at an empty harbourside restaurant, with only a framed photograph of an unnamed woman for company. He inadvertently witnesses some apparent criminal activity and makes a quick escape in a Fiat 500 (the photo carefully placed on the passenger seat), followed by five angry men in their Citroën Dyane.
So begins a picturesque odyssey across the French countryside, the best Provençal driving holiday you’ve never had. It’s a car chase, technically, but a slow one. Certainly, the sense of peril is insufficient to prevent both the pursued and his pursuers from stopping off for a good lunch whenever the mood strikes. And should they happen upon a live jazz band in a charming little town square, or a stranger singing an impromptu opera aria, what’s to stop them just sitting there in the late afternoon sun for a while?
All this enjoyment of la belle vie leaves little time for slapstick, but The Man in the Hat is, in any case, more socially adept than his silent comedy forebears. He’s a sensitive listener (Hinds, utilising those melancholy eyes) and the people he meets along the road – the Damp Man (Stephen Dillane), the Biker (Maïwenn) – seem comfortable sharing their own tales of love and loss. It’s a Francophile fantasy that may be too twee for some, but the French tourist board will surely be satisfied.
Source: The Guardian
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