An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: Bon Voyage (2003)
PUBLISHED: 08:19 03 March 2018
Movies that tell a good story and have engaging characters provide that all-important re-watch value necessary for a great film. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies which may entertain if you are in the mood for something different
Bon Voyage; dir: Jean-Paul Rappeneau; Starring Isabelle Adjani, Gerard Depardieu, Virginie Ledoyen, Gregori Derangere and Peter Coyote. Cert: 12 (2003)
This contemporary French classic, set during the German invasion of France in May 1940, summons up memories of Casablanca, Michael Curtiz’s war-time adventure/romance starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
Bon Voyage is not a remake by any means but it does conjure up the atmosphere of that war-time classic. Both films share a dry, somewhat black sense of humour, which is set against a gripping Second World War drama.
Most films dealing with the 1939-45 Nazi conflict are invariably taken from a British or American viewpoint and understandably centre around a major battle. So we get movies like A Bridge Too Far, The Longest Day, The Battle of Britain, Tobruk or The Dambusters but the beauty of Bon Voyage is that it is a domestic drama.
This is the story of the domestic war in France. For British audiences it opens up another angle on what have become an accepted version of events.
We know that the Germans, using their new Bliztkrieg ‘lightning warfire’ method over-ran France in a matter of weeks and the country was divided in two. The German military authorities ran the northern half of country while Marshall Vichy ran a so-called independent French government in the south.
General Charles de Gaulle fled to London to run a Free French military operation in exile. De Gaulle has always been seen as France’s Winston Churchill but this film suggests that perhaps the government that stayed and tried to wring concessions out of the Germans possibly did more for the average French citizen than de Gaulle ever did.
It seems that this is a hot topic in France and this debate informs the central core of this movie.
The undercurrent of the film maybe serious but the tone of the film is an exhilirating mix of adventure and character comedy.
As the film opens we are introduced to Viviane, a self-absorbed movie star, played by Isabelle Adjani. She is attending the premiere of her latest film and it is clear that she is also having a passionate affair with a surprisingly slim Gerard Depardieu, who we learn is an important figure in the French government.
As news of the German invasion reaches Paris, everyone knows they have to flee to safety in the warm and relatively remote south of France.
It is on this perilous exodus that we meet the young female science student, played by Virginie Ledoyen, who, along with her mentor, is trying to keep bottles of experimental ‘heavy water’ out of German hands.
Originally titled The Road To Bordeaux, this is director Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s follow-up to his worldwide hit Cyrano De Bergerac and the critcally acclaimed The Horseman On The Roof.
Bon Voyage is a rollicking adventure yarn which combines that tongue-in-cheek Hitchcockian flavour (echoes of Notorious) with a genuine feel for those World War Two movies that were actually shot while the conflict was underway.
Rappeneau’s feel for period is faultless. The sets, costumes, lighting, vehicles, set-dressing, even the way the movie clips look give the film a reality which is unnerving. You almost expect Claude Rains to come on as the police chief Captain Louis Renault.
The film cuts between the dramatic war story, the complicated love life of Adjani and Depardieu and an unfortunate murder which young writer Frederic, played by newcomer Grégori Derangère, seems to have got himself caught up in.
The script is a dream and manages to inject humour into the most unlikely of situations and yet the farcical elements never become so absurd as to undermine the dramatic integrity of the movie. Rappeneau has managed to produce a war film that is also a feelgood movie. It is engaging but also thoughtful and has its fair share of edge of the seats moments, particularly when the resistance is recruited to get the heavy water to safety.
It’s also a superb character comedy and provides Isabelle Adjani with one of the roles of her career as the self-obsessed movie star who will do anything and sleep with anyone to further her career or insulate herself from the outside world.
American actor Peter Coyote brings an heightened element of danger to the film as an unsettlingly creepy Nazi spy. It’s a casting decision which shouldn’t work but like the rest of the film it’s unconventional and works quite brilliantly.