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BON VOYAGE(director/writer: Jean-Paul Rappeneau; screenwriters: Gilles Marchand/Patrick Modiano/Julien Rappeneau/Jérôme Tonnerre; cinematographer: Thierry Arbogast; editor: Maryline Monthieux; music: Gabriel Yared; cast: Isabelle Adjani (Viviane), Gérard Depardieu (Beaufort), Virginie Ledoyen (Camille), Yvan Attal (Raoul), Grégori Derangère (Frédéric), Jean-Marc Stehlé (Kopolski), Peter Coyote (Alex Winckler), Nicolas Vaude (Andre Arpel); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Laurent Pétin/Michèle Pétin; Sony Pictures Classics; 2003-France-in French with English subtitles)
“Never quite worked even as a fluff film meant only for escapist entertainment.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Bon Voyage is a heavy-handed attempt at 1940s screwball comedy and social farce ala Casablanca, plus it attaches a murder mystery and some political intrigues into this uneasy mix. It’s co-scripted by Patrick Modiano and directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau (“Cyrano de Bergerac”/”The Horseman on the Roof”), who is better at getting the period decor and photography right than the comedy. The fine ensemble cast never meshed together, as they either overact like Isabelle Adjani or are too transparent like in the lightweight characterization given by Grégori Derangère (one of the most popular leading men in French cinema) or are given an underwritten part like Gérard Depardieu. This overblown production never got untracked as to what kind of statement it wanted to make and made for a dreadfully slow watch.

On the eve of the German occupation of Paris in 1940, an event that has shamed the French nation ever since because they capitulated without firing a shot, a myriad of self-absorbed characters cross paths as they flee in droves to Bordeaux and the ritzy Hotel Splendide. These idle rich and politically connected characters are more interested in their sexual liaisons than in the political developments. Manipulative narcissistic glamor-gal movie star Viviane (Isabelle Adjani) persuades a gullible ex-boyfriend and childhood friend, an aspiring writer, who still is in love with her, Frédéric (Grégori Derangère), to come over late at night and dump the dead body of her ex-boyfriend producer in the river, as she tells him a lie that he accidentally fell down the stairs in her apartment. On the rainy night Frédéric gets into a car accident and when the producer’s body is found in his trunk with a bullet hole lodged in him, he’s arrested and sent to prison as a murderer.

Viviane then runs to a would-be suitor, to only seek help for herself, the collaborationist cabinet interior minister, Beaufort (Gérard Depardieu), who is in the middle of high-level meetings in which the French government is deciding whether to capitulate. But Viviane pulls the clueless hypocritical politico out of the meeting to discuss her personal problems. When he keeps the police from questioning her, she obliges by becoming his lover and he becomes her full-time protector. Also hot for Viviane is an opportunistic journalist, a possible German spy named Alex (Peter Coyote, the American speaks what sounded to me like a fluent French and then tries out German but without the same fluency).

Just before the Germans arrive in 1942 the prisoners are handcuffed in pairs while being transferred to another prison down south, and in the confusion Frédéric with the help of his fellow prisoner Raoul (Attal) breaks free and escapes. On the train to Bordeaux Frédéric meets the demure college lab assistant Camille (Ledoyen) who is helping her boss, an elderly Jewish physicist professor (Stehlé), smuggle heavy water, to be used for development of an A-Bomb, out of the country to England. The film spends much time with the subplot of getting the professor and the nuclear material to safety in England before the Germans get their hands on it, and with Frédéric getting over his love for Viviane and falling in love with the studious looking nice girl Camille.

But the film’s main focus is on the scatterbrained Viviane, who sees everything in terms of how it will benefit her. Her comedy antics consists of bouts of hysteria or the pouring on of crocodile tears or telling of lies, as she strings along a lot of men suitors who fall for her beauty and fake vulnerability. “Bon Voyage” begins and ends in a movie theater where audiences are cheerfully watching Viviane onscreen, as it’s meant as an homage to films for their value in entertaining people no matter how difficult are the times.

“Bon Voyage” never quite worked even as a fluff film meant only for escapist entertainment because the satire left no teeth marks and the nostalgia moments among these droll collaborators never had any sparkle and there wasn’t one lead character who showed any personality. The most amazing thing about the pic is that the 48-year-old Adjani can still be cast in an ingenue role meant for someone half her age and would have gotten away with it if the film had some more substance.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”