La Belle Époque is a fun and intriguing time-travel-fantasy romcom exploring the delights and traps of nostalgia and its impact on the present.
It takes a while to figure out what’s going on in La Belle Époque. It begins with a pre-20th century long table dinner attended by well-to-do aristocratic types. When one of the ladies reaches out to stroke the skin of a negro servant, she asks if the colour “rubs off”. The end of the scene is more shocking still. Gruesome, in fact. Isn’t this supposed to be a romcom?
Turns out it is, although on the whole it’s more intriguing and fun than funny.
The period dinner is the work of a high tech leisure company, Time Travellers, which charges a bomb to take well-heeled clients back to a time in the past of their choosing. We’re not talking scifi here, but discovering the company’s modus operandi is part of the fun, so I’ll refrain from detailing the logistics. Let’s just say it involves appropriately costumed actors, period sets and a whole lotta planning in advance.
Enter Victor Drummond (Daniel Auteuil), an unemployed cartoonist in his 60s who has lost his mojo – and recently, his wife Marianne (Fanny Ardant), who kicks him out in a fit of pique.
Desperately in need of a break, Victor accepts when the director of Time Travellers, Antoine (Guillaume Canet), a childhood friend of his son, gifts him a time-travel fantasy. He chooses to go back to 1974, to the time when he met Marianne at a bohemian café.
Victor finds himself enraptured with Margot (Doria Tillier), who plays the young Marianne – or is it Marianne he’s falling for all over again? Add a jealous Antoine to the equation (he is involved with Margot in ‘real life’ and is directing proceedings off-set), and all sorts of complications ensue.
A love-lorn Victor forks out money he doesn’t have to extend the fantasy, and before we know it we’re immersed in the 70s.
A warning to those like me who experienced the early 70s as a young adult: you too will be plunged into nostalgia. It’s all there, especially in a party scene lovingly and convincingly recreated – the rock music, massive fros and flowing hair, flairs and hippie gear, a would-be minstrel bashing at an acoustic guitar while emoting a dreadful original song, a haze of tobacco and dope smoke, and of course everyone is young and beautiful (except Victor).
But like Victor, and through him, we are ultimately served a poignant reminder that you can never go back, and that as seductive as nostalgia can be, it is a rabbit hole that ultimately takes us away from the sometimes obscured treasures that reside in the here and now. Like the enduring qualities that attracted you to your partner, and the comfort and mutual understanding that comes from a lifetime of shared experience…
La Belle Époque is unusually complex and thought-provoking for a romcom, yet it is also works a treat as sheer entertainment. Recommended.
Movie Website: https://en.unifrance.org/movie/46739/la-belle-epoque
La Belle Époque screening dates (2019-20 Lotterywest Perth Film Festival):
Somerville: Mon 6 – Sun 12 Jan, 8pm
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