Lush French comedy Bon Voyage hits the spot.
Thursday, May 13, 2004
Veteran French filmmaker Jean-Paul Rappeneau pulls off a nifty trick in his delicious new film Bon Voyage . It begins as a piece of stylized fluff, complete with gorgeous period costumes, broad characterizations, and the frothy elements of slamming-door bedroom farce (including the slamming doors). Lush music swells whenever boy meets girl, and characters are forever racing up and down winding staircases, spying on each other or eavesdropping over balconies.
But gradually, without the viewer even noticing the subtle shift in tempo, the film morphs into something much more interesting—an elegantly conceived and skillfully played-out suspense thriller set against the backdrop of the Nazi occupation of France circa 1940. The subject couldn’t be more serious as Paris is thrown into upheaval by the advancing German army, yet Rappeneau’s film never loses its glossy, stylish look or its buoyant sense of humor.
At the center of the story is glamorous movie star Viviane (Isabelle Adjani, in a ripe comic performance). Viviane is an opportunistic drama queen who can’t tell real life from the movies, and right now she’s playing a femme fatale in a jam in pre-war Paris. Frederic (Gregori Derangere) is the upright designated sucker she turns to for help, a smitten young provincial from Dijon trying to write his first novel. When things get too hot, Viviane allies herself with another smitten swain, stuffy but powerful cabinet minister Beaufort (Gerard Depardieu), and lets Frederic take the fall.
Frederic is imprisoned for two years. But he and his cellmate Raoul (Yvan Attal), a petty thief, escape in the confusion when the prisoners are transported out of the path of the invading German army. The fugitives hitch a ride to Bordeaux with an elderly Jewish scientist (Jean-Marc Stehlé), a professor from the College of Paris who’s fleeing the city with his spunky, pretty young assistant, Camille (Virginie Ledoyen), and a carload of precious chemical compound that must be kept out of Nazi hands at any cost. All the characters and subplots rendezvous in the coastal city of Bordeaux.
The blend of a moment in French history and cinema magic makes a wonderful setting for Rappeneau’s clever tale. The ingenious plot ticks along with clockwork precision, yet never feels contrived. The writing is crisp and smart, the humor situational, not slapstick, and the characters are worth caring about in this unexpected French treat.
Bon Voyage (3 1/2 stars)
Directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau
Starring Isabelle Adjani, Gregori Derangere, and Gerard Depardieu.
(Rated PG-13, 114 mins.) In French with English subtitles.