La Belle Epoque – Film Review
by Frank L
Director: Nicolas Bedos
Writer: Nicolas Bedos
Stars: Daniel Auteuil, Guillaume Canet, Doria Tillier
Victor Drumond (Daniel Auteuil) is a sixty-something cartoonist whose professional relevance as a newspaper cartoonist has been made redundant by modern technology. He is now a grumpy curmudgeon. His wife, Marianne (Fanny Ardant), of forty years, has tried to keep up to date and is irritated by his inability to accept the changes that have happened. She too is in a rut professionally as a psychologist. She has done the job for too long. Their relationship is in reality at an end.
They have two grown-up sons, one of whom introduces Victor to his friend Antoine (Guillaume Canet) who uses all sorts of modern techniques and gadgetry, along with a troupe of actors, to provide his wealthy clientèle with scenarios where they can enter into snippets of a past era of their choice. The film starts with just such an event – a belle epoque dinner.
Victor is offered the chance to pick a time in the past and he chooses the world in which he lived when he first met Marianne in May 1974. A young woman by the name of Margot (Doria Tillier) is cast as the youthful Marianne. She has a romantic attachment with Victor’s son. That is when things start to get complicated!
Bedos recreates the ambience of a small, local Parisian cafe run enthusiastically by its owner in the nineteen seventies – an ambience very far from the formulaic coffee shop chains which now litter all European cities, Paris included. The place has its own personality and charm exemplified by a female singer, no longer in her prime physically, but absolutely confident of her self, as she strolls into the cafe singing as if she owned the establishment.
Bedos cuts and chops between the humdrum reality of Antoine’s married life with the enchanted world of his 1974 existence. Throughout he uses perceptive comic touches and manages the innumerable changes of scene and time with consummate skill.
Auteuil creates a character in Victor who is engaging, as he grapples with the reality of his financially redundant skills. When he encounters Margot his return to the 1970s enlivens him in a way that Marianne has long ceased to do. Canet too is wonderfully flexible and sexually alive as Antoine. Fanny Ardant is convincing as Marianne but there is a lack of generosity in her soul. Tillier as Margot is delightful. All of them create a wonderful world of fantasy.
Bedos has created a romantic comedy of immense charm which is meticulously observed. Very much a movie to enjoy for the sheer loveliness of it all.