La Belle Époque
2020 French Film Festival (all over Australia until Aug 4)
Palace Nova Adelaide and Prospect
Review By Sarah List
The Belle Epoque period of history was defined as a golden phase before World War I that was highlighted by regional peace, prosperity and innovation. Partners of 40 years, Victor (Daniel Auteuil) and Marianne (Fanny Ardant) are well past their personal Belle Epoque, and have slid into a lackluster phase of overfamiliarity and indifference. Victor is a cartoonist that loathes technology and change, and is refusing offers for work having been fired from his last job as the publication cut costs and moved online.
Searching for a re-ignition of her own life, psychologist Marianne secretly commenced an affair with Victor’s best friend (and ex-boss) and in a fit of fury moves that dalliance to the fore as she feels hey joy and marriage withering, thus evicting her husband to the scrap heap. Their son Maxime (Michaël Cohen) desperately wishes to reignite the joy de vivre in his dad, and gifts him an immersive experience of his choice in a custom-built for one version of WestWorld (without the killer robots). Most people choose the opportunity to experience an era or event beyond their lifetime, but Victor sets about recreating the place, era and events that led to him meeting his beloved wife in 1974. With the help of his richly detailed sketches, the era is faithfully recreated so that Victor may explore the time where he felt free and optimistic. He is soon beguiled by Margot (Doria Tillier), the actress portraying his young wife. Margot warms effortlessly to the sweet innocence of Victor’s fantasy and affection for the memory of his young wife, which contrasts sharply with the tumult of her own relationship with the director of the experiences (Guillaume Canet). The joyful interactions between Victor and Margot make it seem entirely possible that Victor’s Belle Epoque may have returned.
This is a universally familiar scenario of love won and waning over time. We forget the details of how we met, how and why we first fell in love. We let familiarity take one another for granted until we are convinced there are greener pastures that must be sought elsewhere in our one life to live. We let bills and routine and comfortable pants take over and fail to make the choice to ‘be’ with our partner each day in a way that shows them that they are valued and desirable. It reminds us that love is an investment that we must continually make deposits towards to keep that warmth present.
This is a beautiful, emotionally smashing must-see.