The Man in the Hat review – whimsical French car chase

France looks beautiful from a Fiat 500 in this picturesque fantasy about a man on the (very slow) run

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?

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