LA BELLE ÉPOQUE
THREE AND A HALF STARS Victor gets to relive the night he first met his wife who, years later, has just dumped him.
Daniel Auteuil, Fanny Ardant
ROMANTIC COMEDY FRENCH LANGUAGE #LABELLEÉPOQUE
The long marriage between Victor (Daniel Auteuil) and Marianne (Fanny Ardent) is crumbling. He’s tired of change, she embraces the cutting edge. Things come to a head, she throws him out and installs her lover (Victor’s best friend). Adrift and forlorn, Victor is given an opportunity to hit the virtual-reset button when an anonymous donor sends him a gift card to relive his youth, quite literally. The company recreates a moment in time for those willing to pay and participate - sign up to eat cake with Marie Antoinette or huddle in a bunker with Hitler - and Victor chooses the night in 1974 when he first met Marianne.
Taking a cue from THE TRUMAN SHOW, this utterly charming romantic-comedy by Nicolas Bedos tackles a very human conundrum: namely the wisdom of recalling good times, rather than dwelling on bad, before throwing your life in the bin. And for Victor this lesson plays out on set as his finely detailed memory is elaborately brought to life on a sound-stage.
It takes place in a faithfully recreated Parisian bar from the past. Enter Victor playing young Victor. Unlike Truman, he’s in on the joke and stops to check the accuracy of the paintwork or the waiter’s dialogue. He takes a seat at the bar. Cue lights. Enter young Marianne expertly played by Margot, the director’s off-again girlfriend. It all goes swimmingly until Victor falls for young Marianne, or Margot, or both; it’s hard to tell.
What gives LA BELLE ÉPOQUE its charge is the added complication that Margot was/is in a taught relationship with Antoine (Guillaume Canet), the director of Victor’s reminiscence. Antoine is controlling, to say the least. So while he and young Marianne are doling out behavioural advice to lovelorn Victor, they’re also talking through him at one another. Sounds complicated? Keeping up with who is talking to who, in what capacity or what character is half the fun of a turbo-charged start to the movie.
Then once you’re in, Bedos eases the throttle to explore relationships young and old through a warm-hearted lens. Marianne is tiring of her new flame and their tiresome friends. Victor and Margot and Antoine have to untangle their complications as Victor and Marianne’s son, a friend of Antione’s, works to bring sense to everyone. It’s not quite farcical, but not far from it.
The result is the kind of witty, occasionally implausible but utterly forgivable, rom-com Hollywood used to make, or Richard Curtis still makes on a good day. Go with it, and LA BELLE ÉPOQUE deliver a sizeable, utterly enjoyable treat. The kind that makes you go ‘awwww’.