Bon Voyage Review
In this day and age it is perhaps the most fitting of ironies that the gutsy, rollicking adventure melodramas that Hollywood produced during the 1940s in almost viral proportions are now a genre that only the French are willing to attempt. Bon Voyage may not be an entirely serious throwback to the films of that bygone era, but its playful knowingness and occasional explosions of farce are infinitely more appetizing to a modern audience. Indeed, I’m doubtful it would even be feasible to create a po-faced rendition of such an outmoded film genre without Bon Voyage damaging its capacity for entertainment - though equally it’s a mark of the film’s careful restraint that it never oversteps the mark and descends into a self-conscious parody of itself.
It's 1940 and whilst the majority of Paris is preoccupied with the onset of war, glitteringly famous actress and socialite Viviane (Isabelle Adjani, finally getting a juicy role after a dearth of good material) is more concerned by the corpse of her former lover, who she promptly offed when he arrived at her apartment and threatened to blackmail her. She calls upon childhood friend Frederic (Grégori Derangère) for assistance, inveigling the already smitten hero into disposing of the body for her in the nearby river. However their plans hit a snag when Frederic crashes the car transporting the cadaver to its watery grave into a police station, and is promptly arrested. A few months later the Germans are marching on Paris, Viviane’s latest squeeze Jean Etiénne (a marvellously oily Gérard Depardieu), is a cowardly politician angling for a peaceful surrender and Frederic has escaped jail and soon finds himself (like all the film's major players) stranded in Bordeaux. A discreetly beautiful scientist (Virginie Ledoyen) with a secret cargo and a pressing need to get both it and its aged Jewish inventor out of France soon joins this eclectically chic group, as does a sleazy English journalist (Peter Coyote) who may have ulterior motives for his sudden appearance in Bordeaux.
Nothing about Bon Voyage is starkly original, but the film is crafted with such energy, such devotion, such love that the enjoyment and dedication of the participants rewards the film with an audience who have a genuine interest in the story's progression. Admittedly it’s certainly a rather flighty piece of cinema: the invading Nazis aren’t treated with much gravity, though the film does alight upon - quite candidly - the almost unanimously defeatist attitude amongst the politicians and the grotesquely blasé indifference of the wealthy bourgeois. Ultimately however, Bon Voyage aims solely to be an enjoyable piece of irreverent escapism and firmly sublimates any political agenda into conventional thrills and excitement.
Contradictory as it may sound (this being a big-budget thriller) the characters are Rappeneau’s priority, none more so than Viviane, who would be loosely categorised as a femme fatale were she not a little on the ditzy side and so shamelessly petty and childish that one almost wonders how men persistently swoon at the very sight of her. Of course, Isabelle Adjani’s ethereally pallid and beautiful visage might have something to do with it (she was nearing 50 during the film’s production, not that you’d know since she looks frighteningly youthful) and her deeply-wrought pout and doe-like eyes certainly assist her in manipulating the will of those around her. Ledoyen and Derangère are instantly likeable and convincing as a romantic pair and the ensemble cast gels together superbly; all of which is complemented by an intelligent and effective screenplay and Rappaneau’s masterfully assured direction.
Picture: For such a recent film the 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer left me slightly under–whelmed. It’s reasonably clear but the image is rather soft, colours look a tad muted and there are a few examples of artifacting.
Sound: Both the stereo and the 5.1 mixes are fine, though it’s mildly irritating that the DVD automatically pre-selects the stereo audio track.
The Double Life of Jean-Paul Rappaneau - A 20 minute documentary that uses the said director as its focal point. Some interesting detail, but its lack of scope is unfortunate and prevents us from gathering a broad overview of the film's production.
Behind the Scenes - Just three minutes of footage recycled from the above documentary.
Interviews with the Cast - Interviews with all the main actors. Depardieu and Adjani are tiresomely cryptic and portentous but Ledoyen and Coyote are candid stand-outs.
Trailers - A surprisingly bad French trailer and an uncharacteristically good American one.
This is the kind of adroitly constructed mainstream film that Hollywood now appears to be incapable of producing and its effervescent blend of romance, comedy and action make it a succulent delicacy that warrants at least a single viewing. The DVD isn't exceptional, but it's a solid presentation that should satisfy the casual viewer.