A Merry War

French collaborationist farce drowns in decor

For the French, few events elicit a greater sense of collective shame than the country's 1940 capitulation to Nazi Germany, an event that effectively transformed the Third Republic into a puppet state of the Third Reich. As with tragedy, shame plus time often equals comedy, though in the case of Jean-Paul Rappeneau's Bon Voyage, it's more like idiotic farce. As German forces approach Paris, bit actor Frédéric (Grégori Derangère) is summoned by his flighty mistress (Isabelle Adjani) to dispose of the body of a former lover. Things quickly go madcap, and the framed Frédéric winds up stranded in a bourgeois-infested Bordeaux hotel, where he repeatedly crosses paths with a clueless politician (Gérard Depardieu), and a demure physicist (Virginie Ledoyen) harboring a nuclear secret.

Bourgeois infestation: Peter Coyote (center)
photo: Sony Pictures Classics
Bourgeois infestation: Peter Coyote (center)

Despite a few deft touches of '40s movie-ness (Adjani melodramatically flinging herself on her bed; Depardieu's waxy hair), Bon Voyage relies on its considerable star power to conceal its even more considerable lack of substance. The movie ultimately regards bourgie complicity in the face of war as less reprehensible than amusing—why, aren't these collaborationists a droll bunch! (For a more excoriating exercise in Vichy-era nostalgia, rent Bertrand Tavernier's underseen Safe Conduct.) As is customary in a Rappeneau mega-production (Cyrano de Bergerac, The Horseman on the Roof), decor dominates everything. The opulent hotel interiors are magnificently Lubitschian, though the best reconstruction by far is Adjani's impossibly youthful visage, a taut, wrinkle-free zone that brings new meaning to the term les arts plastiques.

 
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