La Belle Époque
Daniel Auteuil, Fanny Ardant, Doria Tillier, Guillaume Canet, Pierre Arditi, Denis Podalydes, Michael Cohen
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…a charming and witty French romantic comedy – timely and relevant in this period of uncertainty and introspection, but also perfect for a light-hearted escape into the past.
La Belle Époque is considered the Golden Age of recent French history – characterised by optimism, cultural innovation and regional peace. In Writer/Director Nicolas Bedos’ comedy-drama, it references a café in Lyon in 1974, where down-on-his-luck technophobe (and now out-of-work cartoonist) Victor (Daniel Auteuil), spent one of the most memorable weeks of his life and met his beloved wife Marianne (Fanny Ardant).
In the present day, Victor is a disillusioned and depressed man. He is bored with the modern world and yearns for a simpler time when people talked to each other instead of their phones. After 25 years of marriage, his wife now despises him and is having an open affair with his best friend Francois (Denis Podalydes). To cheer him up, his son Maxime (Michael Cohen) buys him an ‘experience’ with a company that stages re-enactments as a form of time travel – allowing you to relive in great detail a period of history of your choice, complete with accurate and detailed sets, actors and effects. The idea is the brainchild of Maxime’s childhood friend Antoine (Guillaume Canet), who is determined to give Victor the experience of a lifetime, as the older man had a profound effect on him as a teenager. Victor chooses to go back to the La Belle Époque café on May 16th 1974 (the exact day he met Marianne) in the hope of reliving his own personal golden age, and perhaps rekindling the love for his wife by returning to the past to ameliorate the present.
The re-enactments take place in sound stages equipped with stage lighting, special effects and actors portraying historical figures, or in Victor’s case, real people from bygone days. Antoine is meticulous in recreating Victor’s past memories, relying heavily on the man’s detailed drawings and getting frustrated at anything that doesn’t ring true. At one point he goes so far as to employ five cannabis dealers to fill a ’70s doss house with marijuana for a hippy party that Victor tags along to with Marianne. While Victor often acknowledges his altered reality as a creation on a film set, he ultimately suspends disbelief which allows him to fall back into his past.
Melancholic Victor’s want for times past is believable and poignant as he reminisces about the fiery and sassy Marianne he first met. As he gets more and more immersed in his memories, he begins to once again fall for the character of Marianne – played by Antoine’s on-off girlfriend Margot (Doria Tillier) – creating tension and confusion, as Antoine watches on helplessly from the studio control room.
Auteuil and Ardant are a powerful combination, and Doria Tillier (who Bedos starred alongside in his 2017 debut feature Mr and Mrs Adelman) is mesmerising as Margot/Marianne. Canet’s fastidious Antoine is also superb.
César Award-winning Bedos’ whimsical screenplay juggles its storylines with aplomb, flitting from moments of farce to melancholy – reminding us that perhaps by looking back at our own ‘golden ages’ we might be able to adjust some of our challenging feelings for the present.
La Belle Époque is a charming and witty French romantic comedy – timely and relevant in this period of uncertainty and introspection, but also perfect for a light-hearted escape into the past.