The late Peter Allen once claimed that everywhere you travelled in Europe, you always felt as though you’d got there ten years too late. Seductive in its lure, the past has a way of photoshopping itself into a golden time.
Director and writer Nicolas Bedos has captured this “nostalgie” in his latest feature, La Belle Epoque.
Victor and Marianne have been together for 40 years. After losing his job as a cartoonist when the paper he worked for went online, Victor becomes bitter and depressed. Marianne eventually throws him out of the marital home. In a bid to rekindle his parents’ marriage, their son Maxime organizes a treat for his father, through his childhood friend Antoine. Antoine runs a business which produces realistic, historic scenarios for wealthy clients to immerse themselves in: kind of Westworld for intellectuals. Antoine sets up Lyon in 1974, and the cafe where Victor and Marianne first met.
Bedos takes the simple narrative line of recapturing lost love, and weaves it into a sophisticated and deeply moving work, which is also highly comical. Themes of identity, memory, acceptance and joy work their way inexorably into the sharp and sparkling screenplay. This is that most rare of cinematic creatures: a truly grown-up romantic comedy.
Two of French cinema’s most feted actors, Daniel Auteuil and Fanny Ardant star as Victor and Marianne. Michael Cohen is charmingly geeky as Maxime. Guillaume Canet gives us an Antoine who has his own struggles with the authenticity and vulnerability that real love demands.
Stephane Rozenbaum’s production design is worth the price of admission alone: an incredibly complex design that becomes a character in itself. Emmanuelle Youchnovski also deserves a special mention for the outstanding costume designs which, like the set itself, move from 18th century royal court, to 70s Lyon, to contemporary Paris, with the occasional detour to Nazi Germany.
This is glorious filmmaking: not a missed beat; not a bum note. Bedos has delivered a truly satisfying piece of cinema. And although the term “feel-good movie” trivializes, one would have to be made of asbestos not to walk away from this experience feeling joyful, hopeful…and with maybe just a touch of nostalgie!
La Belle Epoque opens on August 13th.