The Ideal Palace tells the true story of a humble postman in 19th Century rural France who expressed his love for his only daughter by building her a palace.
Joseph Ferdinand Cheval was born in 1936 and was possibly autistic. He avoided people and found it almost impossible to express his feelings.
French director Nils Tavernier was inspired by the extraordinary palace, and the love and determination of the man who created it, to make this heart-warming film.
Cheval (a memorable Jacques Gamblin) lived in the village of Hauterives, in the department of the Drome in south-east France, and the picturesque countryside is wonderfully captured by cinematographer Vincent Gallot.
Every day Cheval walks 32km across the hilly terrain delivering letters and postcards to the local people.
Surprisingly he meets a beautiful widow, Philomene (Laetitia Casta), who understands his solitary nature and gives him devoted support.
They marry and have a daughter, Alice (Zelie Rixhon).
Cheval, at first terrified at the thought of a child, becomes totally enraptured by her. To show his love, he decides to build her a fabulous palace.
He has no training in building or architecture, but he says he is inspired by nature. He is also inspired by the postcards he delivers, which show incredible scenes of Hindhu temples, Muslim mosques, tropical jungles and grand colonial buildings.
All these ideas he incorporates into his designs, working doggedly for hours every day after his 10-hour delivery round, lugging rocks by wheelbarrow for kilometres along rough hilly tracks.
It took Cheval 33 years, from 1979 to 1912, to complete his masterpiece.
Meanwhile, tragedy strikes the household. Cheval is heartbroken but doggedly plods on.
He battles officialdom to bury his loved one in the palace. And when he is refused permission to be buried there himself, he spends eight years building his own tomb in the local cemetery.
Amazingly, considering the battering he gave his body over the years, Cheval lived to the age of 88.
From the start, his bizarre palace, which has been compared to Gaudi’s idiocentric architecture in Spain, attracted curious visitors.
In 1969 Andre Malraux, then the French Minister of Culture, had it listed as a historic monument, and it still stands today, attracting 100,000 visitors a year.
The Ideal Palace is a film about the power of love and commitment to achieve remarkable results.
As Cheval, Jacques Gamblin has found a role which demonstrates the depth of his talent.
The Ideal Palace opens on Thursday, December 12 at Luna Leederville, Luna On SX and Camelot Outdoor, with advance screenings on 5 December.
Watch the trailer…