Review: La Belle Époque

DIR/WRI: Nicolas Bedos • DOP: Nicolas Bolduc • ED: Anny Danché, Stéphane Garnier, Florent Vassault • DES: Stéphane Rozenbaum • PRO: Martin Metz • MUS: Nicolas Bedos, Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen• CAST: Daniel Auteuil, Guillaume Canet, Doria Tillier, Fanny Ardant

Poor Victor Drummond (Daniel Auteuil). He lost his job as a comic-book illustrator because of the horrible modern world in which everyone worships the internet all the time. These days he has to suffer through life as a kept man while his wife and son make pots of money and try to convince him to accept well-paid work on their streaming service. 

Forgive me my skepticism, but for some reason I’m just finding it harder to buy into the dilemma of the poor little well-off white guy as found in Nicolas Bedos’ La Belle Époque these days. Maybe it’s simply a moral failing of mine. Hmm. 

Anyhow, Victor’s son Maxime (Michaël Cohen) is luckily not entirely devoid of use when he gifts Victor a voucher for an innovative re-enactment entertainment package, in which he gets to pick the time period. Think of the packages as escape rooms, except instead of escaping a room of puzzles there’s, um, history. Victor picks the date in 1974 when he first met his recently estranged wife Marianne (Fanny Ardant) and soon finds himself on a carefully recreated life-size set of the street and bar in which they first locked eyes. Cue much romantic comedy as Antoine, the producer and director of Victor’s time-travelling experience, repeatedly bullies his employee Margot, the actor playing the younger Marriane (Doria Tiller). Don’t worry though, he’s troubled and loves her so it’s apparently fine.

Comparisons have been made between La Belle Époque and the work of Charlie Kaufmann. However, what came to the fore for this reviewer was more similar to Peter Weir’s The Truman Show. While Victor may have signed up for this immersive recreation of reality, the lengths to which Antoine and his crew go in order to control and observe Victor certainly cross the line into unacceptable. However, disappointingly, and in contrast to The Truman Show, despite being ostensibly critical of the problems of technology, La Belle Époque has curiously little to say about the dangers of surveillance in the modern era. 

To give the film some light praise, La Belle Époque sets out to be provocative as demonstrated in the film’s frenetic opening regency-era sequence, replete with raunchiness and sudden shocks. It does succeed. The fast-paced, at times exhausting editing slows down as the film travels back to Victor’s more simple, idealised era. This was preferable but only just, considering that providing certain characters with more nuance did not necessarily improve events. 

Who knows? Maybe I would have been more entertained by Victor’s exploits if it didn’t take the world literally being turned into a playground for his own desires and a huge cast of characters provided to accede to his every whim in order for him to learn some surprisingly banal and rudimentary lessons about life. But that’s the plight of the poor little well-off white guy these days and I will prepare my tiny violin accordingly. 

Sarah Cullen

115″

La Belle Époque is released 22nd November 2019

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