Love, memory and nostalgia come to the fore in Nicolas Bedos’s second feature La Belle Epoque (now on release), a comedy drama which could be described as a domestic, non-violent variation on Westworld.
Victor is a disillusioned, 60-something cartoonist who feels alienated by the modern technologies that his psychoanalyst wife Marianne can’t live without. When she throws him out, he meets successful entrepreneur Antoine, the creator of a high end, re-enactment service that enables wealthy customers to live in the era of their choice. Victor doesn’t hesitate for a second; he wants to go back to a rainy day in 1975 and a little bistro in Lyon and relive the most memorable week of his life when he first met his greatest love–his wife. Although she is now having an affair with his best friend, he hopes that by replaying the past he might change the present.
This look at a couple in crisis is basically an inventive romantic comedy that deftly blends wry humour with heartfelt emotion. But it suffers from being overwritten with a surfeit of dialogue and a needlessly frenzied pace. Furthermore it often blurs fact and fantasy, creating a degree of co fusion. The central idea is admittedly a clever one–a company that uses elaborate movie sets to construct elaborate fictions for its well-heeled clients. You can live in Nazi-era Germany, dine with Marie Antoinette, or get completely sizzled at an Ernest Hemingway evening. It is an idea that the film could have made much better use of.
However it looks gorgeous and features a top-class cast. A bearded Daniel Auteuil is a magnetic screen presence and we can fully empathise with his character of Victor, a man whom is so desperate and lonely that he’d rather spend time in the fake world than in the real one and is prepared to relive his past in order to save his marriage. Fanny Ardant convinces as Marianne, his wife for the past 40 years and for whom the love she felt for her husband has now evaporated. Good support is provided by Guillaume Canet as Antoine and Doris Tillier as the sexy actress who plays Victor’s wife in the reenactments.
Speculative fiction maybe but who is to say it could not become reality.
Wry, inventive romantic comedy with a top class cast. Daniel Auteuill and Fanny Ardent own the show as a couple whose imperfect love finds life only in fake reality.