La Belle epoque – Film Review

A film by Nicolas Bedoa
Starring Daniel Auteuil (Victor) , Guillaume Canet (Antoine) , Doria Tillier (Margot) and Fanny Ardant (Marianne)
1 hour 55 minutes, M rated
French language with sub-titles

I love this film. I loved it the first time I saw it and I will love it no matter how many more times I watch it.

It reminds me somewhat of the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris, in which the young American hero, Gil Pender, a writer, travels back to La Belle Epoque, the period of history he sees as the richest. The notion that sometime in the past was better, the rosy hue of nostalgia for the unattainable past is a common literary (and life) theme.

This film illustrates so well the ability of the French film-maker to depict a vast range of powerful emotions whilst at the same time dishing up a lot of laugh aloud humour. This is a very clever film.

Victor and Marianne, a long-married couple in their sixty somethings, are wrestling with both their own demons and with a relationship which seems to have soured and become painfully distant.

Marianne is frantically resisting old age, trying to embrace all aspects of technology and modernity; Victor is depressed about change, his lost career and the loss of intimacy in his marriage. Marianne is a complex character as are they all; she is not always likeable, her nastiness symptomatic of her dislike of herself and her fear of her own deterioration with the inevitability of ageing.

When Victor is offered the chance to partake in a new form of entertainment, a lived re-enactment of history, which is the business of entrepreneur Antoine, he chooses to go back to the early 1970s – (pre-historic times, he says, when he still made love to his wife). We are transported to the seventies, to a love affair that swerves off the theatrical rails and into to a clever surreality. The director plays with us as audience with the ingenious juggling of this surreality and reality – and we are happily confused and uncertain.

Victor’s beautiful drawings (his profession) play a significant role in the story and there are many moments of reflection as the players see themselves depicted in his works. The works are also used, of course, to chart Victor’s vivid memories of this golden age.

Those of us who were of Victor’s age in the fictional seventies will find a lot to smile about amidst the inevitable nostalgia in which we also indulge. The film leaves us a little sad and nostalgic, but at the same time  contemplative and full of the warmth of our own memories.

Antoine mirrors the older man’s relationship blues, also with the delicious, passionate, compassionate Margot.  And thus we have a delightful and complex, twisting pair of stories running parallel, also dipping back and forth from reality to fiction.

There are strong elements of magical realism in this production, and not just through the puppet-master’s hands. It is indeed a magical mystery tour as only the seventies can deliver. The performances are stellar.

As part of the 2020 Alliance Française French Film Festival, it will enjoy more replays I am sure, but it is also well worth seeking out when and if it comes to the movies on demand circuit.

It’s currently at Palace Electric Canberra until early September and deservedly selling fast. Tickets and further information at https://www.palacecinemas.com.au/movies/la-belle-epoque

Thank you to Annette at ned & co marketing and publicity for the opportunity to see the film at home.