' ' Cinema Romantico: Bon Voyage

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Bon Voyage

In the dead heat of summer and with American blockbuster after American blockbuster being thrown at you sometimes it's a good idea to foray down the avenue of foreign cinema. This is precisely what I did on Sunday. I rented "Bon Voyage", an absolutely wonderful French film made back in 2003.

I have no idea why I do not indulge in more foreign movies. Most of the time when I do it is an utter treat. One of the best films I saw all of last year was "Housewarming", a French comedy. And one of the best comedies I've ever seen period was "The Dish", an Australian movie from 2001. Your typical American comedy enlists a couple A-list stars, puts them front and center and essentially ignores everyone else in the film for fear of angering the "money" (see "The Break Up"). Whereas "The Dish"concerns itself with creating a full gallery of characters, all of whom are funny and all of whom are endearing. And that's another thing. "The Break Up" makes a sudden and jarring attempt to get serious and pull off a true emotional payoff. But it fails miserably because it never paved the way for this turn. But in "The Dish" they pepper in small poignant and dramatic moments throughout the film so when its emotional payoff comes, it works. You feel the tug on your heartstrings and it's not at all manipulative. I'd like to sit the makers of "The Break Up" down, show them "The Dish", and force them to take extensive notes.

In that regard, I'd like to sit numerous American moviemakers down in front of "Bon Voyage" to show them how it's done. Many American movies are trying to be all things to all people, only to exceed their grasp. At first glance, "Bon Voyage" would appear to be ripe for an excessive grasp but its director Jean Paul Rappeneau never lets this happen. It weaves together comedy, drama and melodrama with grace and skill. It juggles numerous characters and several plotlines but never ever lets events lag and never lets confusion overwhelm the viewer. It's pacing is extraordinary. It knows when to charge forward frenetically and it knows when to reel back in and slow things down.

It is set in France at the onset of World War II. Viviane, a famed French movie actress, has just killed a man (in self defense, she says) who comes to her house late at night. She summons her childhood friend and perhaps (?) love interest Frederic to help. He puts the body in the trunk of his car only - through a series of inevitable hi-jinks - to wind up in front of a police station with his trunk wide open.

He winds up in jail but this coincides with the Germans marching into Paris. Frederic is handcuffed to another prisoner but they both make a daring escape and flee Paris on a train, headed for Bordeaux in the south of France. Naturally, they meet up with Viviane, who also happens to be in a relationship with France's Minister of State who is attempting to decide whether to continue war. Meanwhile, a physics Professor and his beautiful assistant are attempting to flee France with a gaggle of heavy water meant for use with an atom bomb. Also meanwhile, a French journalist who is secretly in league with Nazis is attempting to track down said heavy water for evil purposes.

You may not think it, but I have only skimmed the surface of the plot. There are many more developments and goings-on and other characters that come and go. It's extravagant fun. And it all comes down to a scene in which our hero Frederic comes face to face with both women in his life. The way it happens would perhaps seem over the top at first glance but it will make you laugh and smile warmly at the same time. It sums up the grand achievement which this film is.

I would highly recommend you say bonjour to "Bon Voyage" (ba-da-bing). You will have a smile on your face for the whole two hours, I promise.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This movie was also great because it provided yet further proof to the ongoing theory that you can "Never Trust Peter Coyote."