In All Together, five septuagenarians living together in retirement hire a young German student, Dirk (Daniel Brühl), as a dog walker, who takes the quintet as the subject of his thesis, adopting an explicitly ethnographic view of the elderly for his study. As such, Dirk can be taken as both a point of access for younger viewers, inscribing our own distance from the aged, and as a stand-in for writer-director Stéphane Robelin, who brings his own method of observation to his study of the lives of his five characters. While Robelin’s approach doesn’t quite mirror the ethnographic methodology of his on-screen counterpart (his presentation is much warmer than an academic study would allow for), he seems too often divided between a desire to present the elderly in all their still-kicking vividness and a tendency to indulge in cutesy old-people caricature.
Nowhere is this fine line more precariously trod than in the film’s treatment of the elderly characters’ sexuality. On one hand, Robelin takes pains to acknowledge the still-active libidos of people whose age, per the public imagination, precludes sexual activity. So, while Jeanne (Jane Fonda) talks frankly about her romantic life with Dirk, and while the lascivious Claude (Claude Blanchard) visits prostitutes and discourses on the wonders of female breasts, we’re also treated to misguided bits involving the latter’s attempts to hide his whoremongering from his son and the inevitable appearance of that wonder drug, Viagra.
In addition to sexuality, the film concerns itself with other aspects of elderly life, particularly the ailments that come with age and, for a bunch of former radicals, the legacy of their political involvement. In an early scene, the three male leads, Claude, Jean (Guy Bedos), and Albert (Pierre Richard), attend a demonstration and then bemoan the fact that they didn’t get arrested like their younger counterparts. More seriously, Albert begins losing his memory, while his wife Jeanne awaits her own demise from terminal cancer; Claude suffers the latest in a series of heart attacks; and a jealous Jean comes to terms with his wife Annie’s (Geraldine Chaplin) long-ago infidelity, while Albert does the same with his own spouse.
Issues of sexuality, the lingering desires that first played out years ago, are principally what drives the narrative, particularly once the five septuagenarians move in together in a country house. Lots of conflicts are touched on and then more or less lightly resolved. Despite the subject matter, the stakes always feels rather low, and if the unfolding is often pleasant enough, it’s also somewhat flimsy, and always tinged with the impulse to make the elderly characters just the right amount of ridiculous for the benefit of younger viewers. Ultimately, All Together is about the triumph of youth, as Dirk, who tells Jeanne that he likes “exotic” women, is given his reward for being young and handsome, a busty nubile woman whose indeterminate ethnicity fulfills the student’s requirement and who’s all too eager to jump in the sack with him. Claude can only look on with a smile as the horn-dog torch is dubiously passed to a new generation.