Bon Voyage
review by Elias Savada, 7 May 2004

Some viewers of Jean-Paul Rappeneau's latest film, the $30-million Bon Voyage, have likened it to  feature-length episode of F Troop, that mid-1960s post-Civil War military farce that extended the bumblings and profiteering schemes that situation comedy writers two decades ago envisioned of the still pioneering days in the American Midwest. It's an unfair comparison.

First off, it's the wrong war: Bon Voyage starts in the confusing months leading up to France's entry into World War II. Second, there are no cowboys and Indians. There's also only one American.

The obvious dissimilarities aside, I'll agree there are amusing bumblings, a handful of military types, and even some profiteering afoot. There's also comedy, drama, mystery, fun, intrigue, and fate-filled chaos rolled up in a slam-bang story, flavored with Rappeneau's own childhood recollections of his country's defeat by the Germans.

Rappeneau, whose output as a director is a mere seven features since 1966, apparently likes to take his time between projects. Without a doubt, his most appealing film was 1990's Cyrano de Bergerac, starring Gerard Depardieu. Among that hulking Gallic sex symbol's nearly 150 roles, his only Oscar nomination was for Rappeneau's version of the oft-filmed Edmond Rostand classic about a man with a famously elongated nose. Obviously indebted to the director, Depardieu is back starring in Bon Voyage, after having a bit part in 1995's Le Hussard sur le toit (US: The Horseman on the Roof), Rappeneau's stylish 19th century romantic tale set against the European cholera outbreak. Depardieu, like the rest of the cast, merrily engages in respective stereotype within the realm of sophisticated farce. Love-struck minister Jean-Etienne Beaufort (Depardieu), opportunistic movie star Vivianne Denvert (Isabelle Adjani, looking terrific behind those false eyelashes as she closes in on the half-century mark), idealistic scientist's assistant Camille (Virginia Ledoyen), rascally hoodlum Raoul (Yvan Attal), struggling writer and sad puppy sap-to-a-crying damsel Frédéric Auger (Grégori Derangère, Rappeneau's alter ego with a passing resemblance to ER's Noah Wylie), and determined, back-stabbing journalist Alex Winckler (Peter Coyote).

The charm of Bon Voyage is in its dapper dialogue, sparkling wit, marvelous, historically-sensitive production design (Catherine Leterrier) and fluid camera work (veteran Thierry Arbogast), and delicious, well-orchestrated movement that teems throughout the feature. There are a handful of widescreen exteriors that evoke the desertion of Paris and the overwhelmed masses in Southern France as the German invasion commences; they're breathtaking on their own merits, but help to frame the Bon Voyage's frantic pacing. Early in the film, the young Frédéric, called to the aid of the gossip-repellant movie star (who prefers Jeanne Lanvin's Scandale perfume to the real thing), finds himself caught in a rainstorm in someone else's car with a broken windshield wiper. Circumstances preclude him from contacting the authorities about the dead body in the car's trunk, yet fate causes him to swerve, hit a police call box, the have the boot lid pop open. Quite amusing.

Oblivious to the headlines that scream of the impending war, Vivianne goes about with her self-serving agenda, leaving Frédéric in jail (writing his novel), and eventually heading south to the relatively safe haven of Bordeaux. There, the entire cast comically stagger over each other in the escalating tales of murderer-set-free (and the vengeful dead man's nephew who pushes this chapter to a wild melee in the posh Hotel Splendide dining room), German spies chasing after a secret chemical weapon (wherein newsman Winckler shows his true stripes), upper class "humilation" (i.e., more vindictive lies and generally harmless evasions by the faux-faced Vivianne), and love-among-the-ruins (in which Camille removes her glasses and shows what an intelligent, stunning young woman she is) that populate the second half of the film.

The film's well-orchestrated climax finds the German espionage network hot on the trail of Camille, her mentor, Professor Kopolski (Jean-Marc Stehlé), and their precious cargo attempting to flee to safety in England, but forced through capitulating French authorities to bypass more than one political roadblocks. Nothing a head-butt and friendly chit-chat can't help overcome. Within such an abundance of intertwined drama, Rappeneau has tossed in an ample dose of comedy. "Many comedies collide—the comedy of power, the comedy of personal interests, the comedy of love," Rappeneau offers in the film's press materials.

Bon Voyage is a film drenched in rich character and drunk with the buffoonery of life amid chaos and circumstance. It's a rousing Gallic gem.

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Directed by:
Jean-Paul Rappeneau

Isabelle Adjani
Gerard Depardieu
Virginie Ledoyen
Vyan Attal
Grégori Derangère
Peter Coyote

Written by:
Jean-Paul Rappeneau
Patrick Modiano
Jérôme Tonerre
Gilles Marchand
Julien Rappeneau

PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may be
inappropriate for
children under 13.






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