Directed by: Jean-Paul Rappeneau
Starring: Isabelle Adjani, Gerard Depardieu, Gregori Derangere, Yvan Attal, Virginie Ledoyen, Peter Coyote
I went into Bon Voyage knowing nothing about director/co-writer Jean-Paul Rappeneau, so I had no idea what to expect of his movie. When I came out, my primary thought was that this was an often-fascinating, always-clever film made in a style that went out of vogue about 40 years ago.
Thus it came as no shock to learn that Rappeneau was no young tyro filmmaker, but a 70-year-old man whose writing credits date back to 1959. It was likewise not surprising to learn that he was one of the writers on my favorite Philippe De Broca film, That Man From Rio, which has a similar, breathlessly complex plot -- albeit a much "safer" one than that of Bon Voyage.
Rappeneau's new film takes place in WWII-era France, in the last days before the Vichy government capitulated to the Nazis -- the sort of setting that is just bound to bring down charges of tastelessness in comedy. And that's the tone taken by the film's minority of detractors -- a criticism that seems utterly beside the point. This is no heavy drama about the Nazi occupation of France, but a witty story about a group of people making do under those circumstances.
With the exception of Peter Coyote's Nazi agent, there really are no villains in this piece -- just people with reasons. And in its own way, Bon Voyage is as valid as any film on the war era in Europe, since no single depiction of the years there between 1940 and '45 can claim to be the authoritative statement on either the time or the place. Bon Voyage is certainly no more tasteless than, say, Michael Curtiz's Casablanca or Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be.
The plot rolls along effortlessly on a delightful series of contrivances and unlikely coincidences that start when movie-star Viviane Denvers (Isabelle Adjani) plugs a blackmailing ex-lover and bamboozles long-suffering, love-struck Frederic (Gregori Derangere) into disposing of the body -- whereupon he's arrested for the murder. The impending occupation of Paris by the Nazis, however, provides an opportunity for escape, and he finds himself in Bordeaux -- with a newfound criminal pal (Yvan Attal) in tow. Viviane, too, has fled to that city with her steady lover, cabinet minister Jean-Etienne Beaufort (Gerard Depardieu), a political opportunist all set to collaborate with the Nazis. But this is only the tip of the character-heavy iceberg, which also incorporates a refugee professor with "heavy water" for atomic-bomb experiments, a doddering literary advisor, and so on.
Clever and entertaining, Bon Voyage deserves more of an audience than it's likely to get. Asheville has a history of not supporting most foreign-language films, which is a great pity -- especially regarding this one, judging by the size of the Friday-night audience. So if you want to treat yourself to something stylish and witty, don't waste any time.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke