Bon Voyage Review

Noel Megahey has reviewed the French Region 2 release of Bon Voyage, a war-time action-adventure thriller of murder, spies and romance from Jean-Paul Rappeneau – the first film in 8 years from the director of Cyrano de Bergerac and The Horseman on the Roof.

Although it was almost universally acclaimed by critics and seems to have been liked by audiences when it was released in France last year, Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s Bon Voyage nevertheless made significantly less of an impact at the box office and internationally than his previous blockbuster successes, Cyrano de Bergerac (1990) and Le Hussard sur le Toit (The Horseman on the Roof) (1995). It’s a situation the filmmakers have tried to resolve with a beautifully packaged and highly publicised French special edition DVD.

Bon Voyage is set in Paris, 1939, just before the beginning of the war. Frédéric (Grégori Derangère) finds himself in prison after trying to help childhood friend and movie-idol Viviane Denvers (Isabelle Adjani) dispose of the body of an overly persistent admirer who has been “accidentally” killed in her house. With the German forces about to enter the capital, Frédéric and Raoul (Yvan Attal) take advantage of the situation and manage to escape from prison. On their escape they meet Camille (Virginie Ledoyen), a young student who is travelling to Bordeaux to meet her professor (Jean-Marc Stehlé) and help him deliver into safe hands his latest invention – heavy water which can be used in the creation of an atomic bomb. Among the crowds fleeing the capital, Frédéric runs into Viviane again, now the mistress of French minister Beaufort (Gérard Depardieu). Despite the feelings he still has for her, Frédéric hopes she will be able to use her influence with the government minister to help get the professor’s invention into safe hands, but German spies have got wind of the invention and are on their trail.

Rappeneau’s first film in eight years was expected to follow the success of The Horseman On The Roof and it has all the same elements of action, adventure, espionage and romance as well as an all-star cast. Somehow though, the setting of his earlier successes seems to lend itself more to the romantic swashbuckling of the period, allowing you to overlook the romanticisation of the story, while the WWII setting doesn’t seem to have the same attraction. It’s not for want of trying though. You have to admire the skill with which Rappeneau brings together a large ensemble cast, interveaving their stories into a well-paced, constantly moving film that is not short of action, excitement and adventure.

Grégori Derangère has won much acclaim as Rappeneau’s latest romantic hero, propelling him into top league of French male lead actors. He is indeed fabulous here as the action-hero of the story, although his romantic entanglement with Adjani and his attraction to Ledoyen are unconvincing – either through lack of chemistry or just badly-scripted romantic situations for the characters – ducking into a cinema and having to kiss to hide from German spies who are walking up and down the aisles is far from the most original contrivance for bringing two people together. In fact, few movie dramatic suspense devices are left out – the slightly pointless murder-mystery element involving Adjani, the cartoon Nazi spies who make phone calls in German from open public phones in a bar, the standard road-blocks and chases. It all seems a little formulaic – and, as a homage to Hollywood classics, it is no doubt intended to be – but its self-consciousness does create a little distance between the actors and their characters and between the characters and the viewer. Only Yvan Attal (Ma Femme est une Actrice) seems to rise above his role with a great performance as the under-appreciated yet invaluable sidekick.

Yet, it’s all good-natured fun if you are inclined not to treat it all too seriously. The film’s plot resembles one of the great 1930/40s Hollywood war propaganda adventures, with the plucky French resistance putting up a fight against the occupying German forces, in spite of the capitulation of the French government. Like Laissez-Passer and a number of other recent French films, it’s an attempt to revisit and re-examine a period of French history that is in need of rehabilitation. Like Jan Hrebjek’s Divided We Fall though, I’m not sure this is the best way of treating WWII, but then I’m probably taking this a lot more seriously than it really should be.

There are two editions of the film released on DVD in France – a single disc Édition Simple and a 2-disc Édition Collector. Even by the high standards of French DVDs, the French Region Édition Collector 2-DVD release of Bon Voyage is a real treat in terms of picture, sound, extra features and packaging and will certainly draw to the film many who missed it at the cinema last year. With the lack of any US or UK distribution for the film at the moment however, it would have been useful – if they wanted the film to reach the audience they clearly feel it deserves – if they had included English subtitles.

Rappeneau hasn’t been terribly well served on DVD so far, but it is clear that the director has been personally involved in the production of the Bon Voyage DVD and consequently, the picture is as it should be. Good colours and light balance, clear, sharp image and no signs of marks or compression artefacts. The film’s strong cinematography comes across superbly. There is a slight touch of edge-enhancement noticeable in a couple of scenes, but nothing that you could really find too much fault with.

Same goes for the sound. Not only a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, but a strong, dynamic and reverberating DTS track – perfectly clear and well balanced across the speakers.

Unfortunately neither of the French Region 2 DVD editions include English subtitles. French hard of hearing subtitles are included only on the feature, not on the extra features.

Disc 1
Commentary by Jean-Paul RappeneauThe commentary is a little too much screen specific – Rappeneau points out special effects, how scenes were shot, whether on location or in studio – but he also provides a lot of information on the personal elements of the film, his ideas and influences. It’s a comprehensive interview, with few gaps. I don’t think you could ask for anything more from the commentary …except English subtitles maybe.
The director also provides extensive notes on the film in the accompanying booklet in the box set. The film is clearly something close to the director and something he would like others to see and enjoy.

The film’s trailer is also included among the extra feaures on the first disc.

Disc 2
Making Of : “La double vie de Jean-Paul Rappeneau” (21:05)The making of documentary tracks the director’s involvement in the development of the script and storyboard through to putting his vision for the film onto the screen. There are a number of behind the scenes shots, but nothing in too much depth or detail. The title refers to Rappeneau’s deep personal involvement in his films, living another life through the characters he creates. The documentary is narrated clearly in French by the producer Michele Petin, is well put-together, and of a reasonable length. 1.85:1 letterbox, in French, no subtitles.

Special Effects (6:24)
This short feature, with commentary by the director in French, provides some examples of the “invisible” special effects used in the making of the film – for crowd scenes, green screen backgrounds and day-for-night effects.

Cast Interviews
Interviews are conducted with all the main performers – Grégori Derangère (2:16), Isabelle Adjani (4:08), Gérard Depardieu (2:05), Yvan Attal (5:51), Virginie Ledoyen (4:14), Peter Coyote (3:16 – in English, curiously with no French subtitles) and Aurore Clément (1:58). The questions aren’t included, but are obviously questions about each of their characters and about working with Rappeneau. Each of them confirm the director’s tremendous precision and attention to detail and the lengths he goes to in order to orchestrate the various elements. Not too much variety or depth to the interviews and it comes across as too much in praise of the director.

Jean-Paul Rappeneau Filmography
A detailed look at Rappeneau’s films, both as director and scriptwriter.

For all their romantic perspective on historical events and detachment from realism, I would count Cyrano de Bergerac and The Horseman On The Roof as two of my favourite films, but I personally did not find the same charm in Bon Voyage. It just didn’t work for me. The film is good harmless fun though, the DVD has great picture, great sound and the extra features, while not extensive, are comprehensive and more than sufficient to provide enough background on the film without going into too much unnecessary detail. (The director’s meticulous precision and planning meant that there were not even any deleted scenes to include here). No English subtitles on the DVD though, so if you are a Rappeneau fan, you may hope some US or UK distributor picks this up at some point.


Updated: Jan 20, 2004

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