Claude Lherminier (Jean Rochefort) the former proprietor of a paper mill and a family vineyard in Annecy in southern France who lives in a huge house with many rooms and an enormous garden close to a lake, mischievous, forgetful, pitiful, wilful, irritable, whimsical and mean by turn is determined to make life difficult for a succession of his caretakers and his own daughter, if he is not too busy with polishing and tinkering with all kinds of old kerosene lamps in brass or copper as his chief pastime Saddled with the irksome duty of looking after him is his daughter Alice (Sandrine Kiberlain), who is torn between a busy work schedule as the head of the family paper mill in the midst of an automation project for improving the system for picking up rolls of paper for pick up trucks within the factory and her guilt for not being able to stay with her father personally to make sure that everything is OK. Like an impish child, Claude merely wants to have some attention and would stop at nothing to get it, including pretending to have sustained a fall in his bedroom as a result of her caretaker not arriving on time to give him his daily doses of hypertension pills, asking one of his caretakers to tell him how she liked to be caressed by her husband whilst she is hanging his laundry to dry and asking for permission to watch another caretaker taking her bath, calling up her daughter whenever he feels like it and popping up unannounced at his old paper mill and telling the workers how they could work better, barging into some new manager's office and sitting at her swivel chair behind a desk, as if he were still the boss. But there are also poignant moments. He has fond memories of one of her daughters who died 9 years ago in a traffic accident in Florida but Alice never told him about it for fear of hurting his feelings. From time to time, he would remember how she was, riding a bicycle on a summer day on path close the sea, in a flowing floral dress in light colors, its folds fluttering against the summer breeze, her head upturned, full of life and brimming of youthful energy. So he keeps on asking Alice for the umpteenth times to make up their quarrels because he refuses to believe that she is dead and holds on to the invented story in his own mind that the reason why she never comes back from America is that she doesn't want to speak to Alice although he might have a suspicion that she might have passed away. But he holds on tight to his conviction and always talks to Alice and his caretakers as if she'll come to his next next birthday party. The film is not all grim and hopeless, however. There are some happy moments too, eg, when as a surprise present for his birthday, Alice had his vintage convertible completely repaired and took him out for a spin. He held up his arms, like a child in the wind, happy. There were other touching moments too, as when his latest caretaker played a song on the piano on a sudden whim. It brought back happy memories of his gigs as an amateur jazz pianist who once played with Louis Armstrong. Whilst he was always suspecting others had stolen his precious watch whenever he mislaid it, he gave her lots and lots of cash which he had carefully hidden amongst his books in fact so much that she found she no longer needed to work any more and left. When she left Alice had to arrange for his younger relative to take care of her father and a confidential relation developed across the generations.
The film intercuts between various episodes of the life of this difficult old man in France and his antics on the plane on his way to Florida. Towards the end of the film, he finally confronted the truth and actually went to the address which he thought was the address of his long disappeared daughter and was told definitely by her daughter's widower, who has since remarried, that his beloved daughter is gone. He finally accepts the fate of all old men and women of his age and moves into a very personalized home for the aged,with nice parks, game rooms, gymns, stylish restaurant and his own room and all kinds of activities. He has to accept the fact that he is no longer able to look after himself, losing pee control, losing memory and has difficulties tying shoe laces. The film is a half humorous film about the pressures that the old can pose to the younger generation nowadays and the life of a lonely old man who never seems able to forget how it was when he was much younger and had more control over his own failing powers.
Jean Rochefort is excellent as Claude but Sandrine Kirberlain also manages a most difficult role of having to face the dilemma of dealing with her career, her budding love affair with the engineer responsible for renovating her paper mill Thomas (Laurent Lucas) abandoning his father to his fate and her reluctance to see him that way until the situation is really out of hands. However, we do have some compensation, the beautiful countryside around Annecy and the comic relief in the form of Claude's whimsical acts on an otherwise sombre and sad subject. .