Tue June 1, 2004
Serious implications about the power of love spiced with a humor mastered only by the French.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time
Vive la Farce Fran?ais!
Director Jean-Paul Rappeneau's ("Cyrano De Bergerac") "Bon Voyage" includes the usual farcical elements popular for thousands of years: improbable plot, stereotypical characters, satirical setups, and broad humor. But only the French have made it a sophisticated art form. It lives on in this melodrama set in the early 1940's as Germany is poised to occupy France to its recurring shame.
Viviane (Isabelle Adjani, "Story of Adele H") is a French film actress pursued by a herd of adoring men, most prominent being the Interior Minister (Gerard Depardieu, "Cyrano"). Rappeneau keeps the action moving without slipping into slapstick (the bane of farce). A young screenwriter, Frederic Roger (Gregori Derangere), parleys his acquaintance with the actress and minister into a nation-saving act of heroism that also gives him his true love.
None of this is heavy stuff; in fact, the seriousness of the French ambivalence over capitulation vs. defiance of the Germans is just part of the circus-like plot. Love is a prime mover rather than guns, which when used seem so foreign, almost repugnant to the romantic French. The rich are so spoiled they demand superior accommodations when the Reich is right at their backs. At times the "heavy water" a scientist is protecting from the Germans, who could use it to develop an atomic bomb, seems like a "MacGuffin" that only Hitchcock could have used successfully for dramatic glue.
Although Adjani's actress is too ditzy and deadly to be loved by a contemporary audience, Virginie Ledoyen's Camille, as the scientist's assistant and object of Frederic's affections, is the right combination of intelligence and understated beauty, more French than Adjani's dark-haired, hair-brained, blonde-like movie star.
It is good to experience again the wartime melodramatic moralizing that underwrote "Casablanca" with its insidious German presence, French bipolarity, and traditional love triangle. But this is not an intellectually or thematically superior film; it's just a farce with serious implications about the power of love spiced with a humor mastered only by the French.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com.