What do you do when you’re a has-been musician with thinning hair, staring at middle age and years of loneliness ahead? The good news — at least for Maxime (Vincent Macaigne) in “Tonnerre” — is that you’ve got a kind old dad (Bernard Menez), a dog and a rambling house in the titular French city, surrounded by snowy mountains.

Described by many in his native France as the Gallic Woody Allen, filmmaker Guillaume Brac tells an oft-told tale: Being single sucks, but being old and single is an incomparable bummer.

“Actually, right before making this movie, I was in a state very much like Maxime’s,” Brac tells The Japan Times. “I thought I would never find love again, and working on this film accelerated the down-in-the-dumps feeling.”

Tonnerre (Yasashii Hito)
Director Guillaume Brac
Run Time 102 minutes
Language French (subtitled in Japanese)
Opens Oct. 25

Fortunately for Brac, he found a lovely girlfriend, but the experience of “being without someone and feeling lonely was crucial in telling the story.”

Maxime returns to his family home in Tonnerre after many years in Paris working as a somewhat successful musician. Slightly stooped, kind of bald and a little flabby, Maxime isn’t ready to succumb to middle age entirely. When he meets Melodie (Solene Rigot), a local college student who wants to write a story about him, Maxime falls for her hard. But the difference in their age is telling: Everything about Melodie speaks of her exuberant youth and she approaches life totally differently from Maxime.

As her self-appointed “new boyfriend,” he wants to kiss and cuddle every time they meet; she wants to keep things relaxed and distant. It’s a matter of time before he’s dumped (unsurprisingly) with a text message.

Brac says that the story is just as much about love as it is about the generation gap, defined by shifting relationship values. “Younger people in France are not as obsessed with love as their elders,” he says. “Technology is part of it — they conduct their lives on smartphones, so intimacy becomes less important. It’s people over 35 who think love and sex are the answer to everything.”

Indeed, Maxime can’t take the pain of relationship termination. “She was a bit young for you, no?” says his dad, but Maxime doesn’t want to hear that. It takes a while (and some regrettable stalking) for Maxime to realize it wasn’t Melodie that he really loved but his lost youth, or at least an illusory semblance of it.

The Japanese title translates as “A Nice Guy,” referring to both the reason many women hook up with a man and why they end up dumping him. Niceness is one way to get a girl, but it’s not enough to keep her, and Maxime learns that the hard way. However, sometimes the story is too hard on the hero — everyone, including his dad, is having a much better time.

“Tonnerre” delivers the sort of tale French cinema used be able to generate on a regular basis, while standing on its head with its eyes closed. Now, as Brac points out, the younger French “want to see other things besides romance.” They don’t know what they’re missing.

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