It may be safe to say that we all love a good wave of nostalgia from time to time. We yearn to revisit simpler times and wish we could go back to witness ourselves at either our happiest, or to a memory we really love the most. So, what if these memories could be recaptured in some form?
In Nicolas Bedos’ sophomore film, La Belle Époque is a French-language romantic drama film with a unique story, heartfelt moments and a stellar cast, with a narrative that allows the chance of one man to re-enact a nostalgic and happy time in his life for himself, something that he didn’t realise he desperately needed until now.
Victor, (Daniel Auteuil) a man in his sixties, is stubborn in growing with the ever-changing world and adapting to the technology of today. A cartoonist made redundant, his job has been overtaken by current technologies and no longer uses the more traditional way that Victor is used to, making him unhappy and extremely unmotivated. To make matters worse, his relationship with his wife Marianne (Fanny Ardant) is severely strained and is very much on the rocks.
Marianne is tired of Victor’s old-age view of adapting to the current world and is almost repulsed by so much about him, evident in the way she glares at him across a table with guests and friends surrounding them shown early on in the film. After an argument ensues one night and Marianne kicks Victor out of the house, their son Maxime (Michaël Cohen) presents a unique opportunity for his father.
Maxime’s friend Antoine (Guillaume Canet) runs a company that specialises in revisiting fond memories for their clients by re-enacting said memories in a studio set, allowing people to re-live precious moments in their life that they treasured once more. Victor takes this chance and decides to request to go back to May 16, 1974 – the very first day he met Marianne in the La Belle Époque café. Antoine’s on-again-off-again girlfriend Margot, (Doria Tillier) an actress in Antoine’s various productions, plays the role of the youthful Marianne in Victor’s re-enactment. As time goes by and Victor re-lives his memory with Margot. But is Victor re-falling in love with his wife or is it spending time with Margot that is making him happy?
The premise for this movie is so unique and interesting that it is the definitive pull in enticing you to giving this film a chance. Nostalgia is such a profitable factor in today’s times, if judging by the number of reboots, many-years-since long sequels and/or revivals from much older works are so frequent in recent time. Not just with film but television shows and video games also contribute to this factor. So, it is no surprise that a film based on the idea of re-living your most nostalgic and cherished memory is appealing. If the real, the company would work out quite well in today’s time.
Writer-Director Nicolas Bedos has created a fascinating and creative concept for a story and helps even us think back to moments in our life that we love dearly. Would you want to re-enact your favourite previous time, if given the chance?
While the first half of this film feels a little sluggish and certainly takes its time set things up, the second half really gets going, is more evenly paced provides the pique of its interesting storyline along with its consistent conclusion. Each character has their own development, realisations and it all works and plays out well due to La Belle Époque’s talented cast and original script. It is a solid performance by all involved, particularly Daniel Auteuil as Victor, who we see go from a depressive state, to joyfully exuberant when he is back in 1970s France is so wonderful to see.
Fanny Ardant playing the rather ruthless Marianne who, quite frankly, is not a very nice person and I did not like a great deal, plays a fantastic part in making me really dislike her character, so props to her great portrayal of such a unlikable person. Guillaume Canet and Doria Tillier as Antoine and Margot, respectively, are wonderful to watch on-screen. Despite the pair being together-not together on a regular basis, Tillier plays a wonderful no-nonsense woman who is sick and tired of Antoine’s archaic, perfectionist attitude when it comes to his productions of memories reorchestrated for customers and his rather crappy way of portraying basic love and human connection for Margot. A big well done to all involved, the cast all worked together with aplomb.
I also want to point out that La Belle Époque is also visually mesmerising to watch. Even when you see Victor walk onto the 1970s set of the La Belle Époque café and know this isn’t real, complete with fake rain and seeing Victor witnessing wallpaper disguised as brick and can see it peeling off, everything still looks pretty and realistic. Nothing looks cheap and tacky. Director Nicolas Bolduc is also responsible for the cinematography and I am really in love with the way he has captured and created La Belle Époque’s unique style.
For anyone that loves a good rom-com, French cinema, feeling nostalgic over your favourite memories or all the above, La Belle Époque is fascinating piece of French cinema to behold that should have people smiling.