12 Feb 2020

Movie review: 'La Belle Epoque' is clever and sweet

From At The Movies, 7:34 pm on 12 February 2020

This feel-good French romantic comedy is almost custom-designed for a jaded couples' date night, says Simon Morris.

Simon Morris: Don't be fooled, as I was initially, by the title, which promised a trip back in time to the famous Golden Age of Paris, circa 1880.

It's not that sort of time travel, though the start of this film may bamboozle you as much as it does unemployed cartoonist Victor Drumond, played by the great Daniel Auteuil.

It seems to be a champagne dinner, hosted by one of the King Louis's, and demonstrating the perversity, sexism and racism that some French men are still, apparently, nostalgic for.

Suddenly a modern gang of gunmen break into what's revealed to be a role-playing game for the idle rich. They're about to be robbed. Or are they?

It's all actually a film script, written by Victor's son. The inflexibly old-school Victor doesn't get it. But he doesn't get most things these days - post-modern irony, streaming services on-line, all the new technology that's put him out of work.

He's a complete Luddite, according to his impatient, technophile wife Marianne - played by another old favourite, the fiery Fanny Ardant.

The marriage is on its last legs, it seems, with Marianne embracing the future, and Victor trapped in the past. And he's offered a chance to return there in person.

It seems the historic game organisation Time Travel is a real thing. Clients pick a period, a group of actors research it and offer a night in the time and place of their choosing.

Given a complimentary time-trip by his son, Victor selects a very specific time and place - Lyons, May 16th, 1974, at a café called - what else? - La Belle Epoque.

The place where the young Victor met the love of his life, Marianne.

The man charged with orchestrating this moment is theatrical entrepreneur Antoine. Fortunately for Antoine, Victor has already illustrated the night in question in that very French idea of the comic book, the adult graphic novel.

And the woman chosen to play the young Marianne is none other than Antoine's old girlfriend Margot.

Antoine and Margot - to add a little Gallic spice to events - are going through a messy split, but they can't quite seem to cut the cord.

Meanwhile, Margot proves so talented and empathetic playing the young Marianne that, inevitably, Victor finds himself falling in love with her all over again.

There's more, needless to say, to French writer-director Nicolas Bedos' fiendishly cunning script.

But it's never clever at the expense of a heartfelt sweetness that the French do so well, despite their claims of hard-nosed sophistication.

It's a film that's almost custom-designed for jaded couples' date night, though I recommend you book early for La Belle Epoque.

You may find that any spare seats will have been snapped up by quite a few singles.

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