Bon Voyage
directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau
(Sony, 2003)

So you've got the pouty movie star, the long-suffering admirer, the brilliant but endangered scientist, his deceptively sexy-and-brilliant assistant, evil Nazis and the capitulating French. Ah, oui. A World War II-era French farce.

Bon Voyage isn't going to break any new ground, and it's a voyage that, at two hours, lasts a bit too long. But when it's in full steam, it's entertaining enough and creative enough to burnish the cliches with a little shine.

Much of Bon Voyage revolves in chaotic circles around the relatively unknown Gregori Derangere as Frederic Auger, a young man of some literary ambition who's known -- and been in love with -- the great actress Viviane Denvers (Isabelle Adjani) since their childhood.

It's easy to understand Gregori's halting devotion to Viviane's glamour. Adjani plays this manipulative, infantile woman with a comic flair: You want to attract the men, open your blue eyes wide. You want those men to save you, pay for you, escort you? Simply open those eyes a bit wider and pout.

Viviane's emotional age and sense of duty haven't evolved much past that of a 4-year-old, and not much has been required of her except to look stunning. She's self-involved enough to recognize only herself, not her own brother, in a childhood photo of the two of them.

So when a famous man turns up dead in her apartment, she's wholly unequipped to deal with the PR disaster in any rational way. She calls on Gregori to clean up the mess, he does, and he ends up holding the handcuffs when he's caught.

But this is the eve of the Germans' march into Paris, and Gregori escapes prison in the confusion. In short order, he meets up again with Viviane, she takes up with a French government minister (Gerard Depardieu), the Germans take off in pursuit of the scientist, his creation and his sexy-even-when-wearing-glasses assistant (Virginie Ledoyen) and Gregori gets involved in trying to smuggle the scientist to England.

It all comes full circle, of course, in the traditional farce of mistaken identities and close calls.

What saves Bon Voyage is director Jean-Paul Rappeneau's obvious delight in the scenarios, and his refusal to pretend it's anything other than a comedy. He knows it's a game, and he knows we know it's a game, World War II notwithstanding.

So everything teeters on being just over the top, just a little too much. The score, too, becomes another actor, swelling dramatically just when movie music should and sometimes, as at the end, blurring the line between "real life" and movies within the film.

Get it? Rappeneau tweaks us. Isn't it all just ludicrous?

It is, in a lusciously filmed way that marries goofiness to style.

- Rambles
written by Jen Kopf
published 22 January 2005

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