Thoroughly nonjudgmental in its observations, Pierre Salvadori’s In the Courtyard ranks as one of the funnier films about victims of depression and mental illness.
The afflicted are Antoine (Gustave Kervern) and Mathilde (Catherine Deneuve), and their chemistry provides the dynamic that powers Salvadori’s idiosyncratic portrait. Antoine is a singer who no longer takes pleasure in music; a deeply depressed insomniac, he needs a change. He ends up working as a janitor in the apartment building owned by Mathilde and her husband, Serge (Féodor Atkine), and his misguided, hapless attempts to do his job provide the basis for much of the narrative.
Weathered down by life, Antoine is too despondent to enforce the complex’s rules: He’s soon smoking crack with one of the tenants (Pio Marmaï) and allowing a homeless man, Lev (Oleg Kupchik), to live there illegally. Salvadori’s refusal to judge Antoine lends a detached, almost comical air to the proceedings, building to a hilarious sequence where a fastidious architect tenant’s model building is eaten by Lev’s mutt.
The narrative turns with Mathilde’s own mental issues: After a crack appears in her wall, she begins to suspect the foundation’s stability may be in danger, and mounts an investigation into the structure’s integrity that begins to erode her mental health. As her sanity slips and her marriage strains, the broken Antoine provides emotional support for the increasingly harried Mathilde. It’s in the portrait of these compromised individuals’ relationship that the film finds its emotional heft.