Current Issue #488

Film Review:
La Belle Époque

Nicolas Bedos’ melancholically French character piece has lovely performances and some charming humour – although its mixed messages are perhaps a little screwy.

Featuring now-70ish stars Fanny Ardant and Daniel Auteuil in effortlessly understated form, it’s certainly sweet and appealing but not quite subversive. However, film française devotees won’t mind at all.

Writer/director (and co-contributor of the musical score) Bedos’ tale has longtime-marrieds Marianne (Ardant) and Victor (Auteuil) increasingly bickering and unhappy with each other. Victor’s old pal Antoine (prolific player Guillaume Canet, also the creator of the Little White Lies epics) luckily turns up and, realising the severity of the situation, purchases Victor an evening with the company he works for, a group that specialises in creating historical reenactments and elaborate reconstructions for well-off (of course) clientele.

Some choose to spend time with Ernest Hemingway, Marie Antoinette and, somehow, Hitler(!), but Victor wants to go back 40 years to May 16, 1974, and the most significant time of his life: the week he met Marianne. Lyon’s Belle Époque café is therefore recreated on an improbably lavish scale, according to every detail Victor supplies about clothes, décor, music and more, and the young and gorgeous Marianne is embodied by jobbing actress Margot (Doria Tillier).

And if you’re already leaping ahead and suspecting that Victor is going to fall for Marianne, sorry, Margot, even as the real Marianne remembers how much she loves him and wants him back, then you have obviously seen a fair few French flicks in your time.

The notion that the tough Marianne would forgive Victor so easily and see past his whiny, childish nature is a bit of an issue here because, no matter how adorable Auteuil might be, he’s playing a character who’s really something of an annoying old git. But perhaps that fits with the mood of unreliably-romanticised memories, ‘Golden Age Thinking’ and honey-hued nostalgia.

After all, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

Reviewer Rating

La Belle Époque (M) is in cinemas now

DM Bradley

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